NATO flexes its mus­cles in Baltics, Poland

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

U. S.- led NATO drills be­gan Mon­day in the Baltic states and Poland, a move in­tended to re­as­sure Rus­sia’s ner­vous neigh­bors amid ten­sions over Ukraine.

Rus­sia’s in­creased mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Baltic Sea and re­gional airspace since its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from Ukraine last year has jan­gled nerves in the area, which lay be­hind the Iron Cur­tain 25 years ago.

More than 6,000 troops from 13 NATO coun­tries are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Saber Strike 2015 drills in Es­to­nia, Latvia, Lithua­nia and Poland, all EU and NATO mem­bers.

“This is one of the big­gest exer- cises in Lithua­nia since we joined NATO” in 2004, Maj. Gen. Al­man­tas Leika, com­man­der of Lithua­nia’s land forces, told re­porters in Vil­nius.

“The huge al­lied pres­ence demon­strates sol­i­dar­ity with the coun­tries of this re­gion,” he said, adding that Lithua­nia is host­ing the com­mand cen­ter for the drills.

NATO has been guard­ing the skies over the three small Baltic states since 2004, when they joined the de­fence al­liance but lacked the air power to mon­i­tor their own airspace.

Last month, the Baltic trio for­mally asked NATO to per­ma­nently deploy sev­eral thou­sand troops in their re­gion as a de­ter­rent to Rus­sia.

NATO has not yet replied to the re­quest, mil­i­tary spokesman Lithua­nian Capt. Min­dau­gas Nei­mon­tas told AFP.

The ex­er­cises, or­ga­nized by the U.S. Army in Europe, will run un­til June 19 and in­clude Abrams tanks and B-52 bombers, Gen. Leika said.

The drills take place af­ter Rus­sia last week be­gan con­duct­ing un­ex­pected war games in­volv­ing 12,000 troops and 250 air­craft, at the same time as NATO planes joined Nordic air forces for a drill in Swe­den’s sub-Arc­tic north.

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