NATO al­lies launch ma­jor mil­i­tary ex­er­cise in Poland be­fore key sum­mit


WAR­SAW (Reuters) – A large-scale mil­i­tary train­ing ex­er­cise in­volv­ing more than 20 NATO and part­ner coun­tries kicked off in Poland on Mon­day, part of ef­forts to re­as­sure east Euro­pean na­tions rat­tled by Rus­sia’s ac­tions in nearby Ukraine.

For more than 10 days, 30,000 troops backed by large num­bers of ve­hi­cles, air­craft and ships will be de­ployed in one of the big­gest ex­er­cises on NATO’s east­ern flank since the end of the Cold War, a move likely to put fur­ther strain on the al­ready tense re­la­tions be­tween the Krem­lin and the West.

The Anakonda-16 ex­er­cise, which in­cludes ma­neu­vers such as a night­time he­li­copter as­sault and the drop­ping of US para­troop­ers to build a tem­po­rary bridge over the Vis­tula River, is be­ing held one month be­fore a NATO sum­mit in War­saw that will ap­prove more troops to be sta­tioned in east­ern Europe.

The goal of Anakonda-16 is to “train, ex­er­cise and in­te­grate the Pol­ish na­tional com­mand and force struc­tures into an al­lied, joint multi-na­tional en­vi­ron­ment,” the US Army Europe said.

The United States will pro­vide around 14,000 troops for the ex­er­cise, the largest for­eign con­tin­gent. Non-NATO coun­tries such as Sweden and Fin­land are also tak­ing part in the ex­er­cise.

Poland joined NATO in 1999, a decade af­ter the demise of Moscow-backed com­mu­nism in east­ern Europe. War­saw has been very crit­i­cal of Moscow’s ac­tions in Ukraine and has re­peat­edly urged NATO to boost its pres­ence on Pol­ish ter­ri­tory.

Rus­sia has ac­cused the US-led al­liance of threat­en­ing its se­cu­rity by ex­pand­ing east­wards and has warned of re­tal­i­a­tion.

NATO says ex­er­cises such as Anakonda-16 and plans for the de­ploy­ment of more troops to the re­gion are a de­fen­sive re­sponse to Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimea re­gion and its support for sep­a­ratists in east­ern Ukraine.

NATO of­fi­cials have also ex­pressed con­cern about Rus­sia’s own mil­i­tary ex­er­cises in which thou­sands of Rus­sian troops con­duct war games with­out giv­ing the al­liance any prior warn­ing.

For the sake of trans­parency, the bi-an­nual Anakonda ex­er­cise, which was first con­ducted a decade ago, has been reg­is­tered with the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co-op­er­a­tion in Europe (OSCE), the Pol­ish army said.

Ten­sions be­tween Rus­sia and NATO have been high­lighted by re­cent en­coun­ters of their armed forces. In April, two Rus­sian war­planes flew what US of­fi­cials de­scribed as sim­u­lated at­tack passes near a US guided mis­sile de­stroyer in the Baltic Sea.

Rus­sia, in turn, ac­cused the United States of in­tim­i­da­tion by sail­ing a US naval de­stroyer close to Rus­sia’s bor­der in the Baltic re­gion and warned that it would re­spond with “all nec­es­sary mea­sures” to any future in­ci­dents.

Moscow also ac­cused Wash­ing­ton of at­tempt­ing to blunt the Rus­sian nu­clear arse­nal af­ter it switched on an $800 mil­lion mis­sile shield in Ro­ma­nia and broke ground on a sim­i­lar site in Poland. Wash­ing­ton says the shield is vi­tal to de­fend the US and Europe from so-called rogue states.

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