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4 Jun, 2018 14:08

NATO launches three major drills near Russian borders, says it is not aiming to provoke Moscow

NATO launches three major drills near Russian borders, says it is not aiming to provoke Moscow

Thousands of troops are taking part in three major NATO drills in Poland and the Baltic States, with the US-led military bloc saying the war games aren’t aimed at provoking Russia, but rather improving cooperation between allies.

The two-week ‘Saber Strike’ exercise was launched on Sunday, amassing 18,000 soldiers from 19 countries, with troops deployed in Poland and the Baltic States. They will master the deployment of military convoys to defend NATO’s eastern flank, as well as operations across rivers and bridges.

"Saber Strike 18 is not a provocation of Russia but an exercise with our Allies," US Army Europe said. The drills were "designed to enhance readiness and interoperability among allies and regional partners… demonstrate the alliance’s determination and ability to act as one in response to any aggression.”

Ten NATO member states, including UK, Italy, Poland and Portugal, have also been taking part in the annual ‘Swift Response’ drills, spearheaded by the US European Command since last week. The exercise, staged across Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, also sees the troops from non-NATO member Israel training alongside the alliance forces for the first time.

Israel had been an active NATO partner since the 90s, intensifying cooperation with the bloc in recent years in combating terror threats and other areas. The Israeli diplomatic mission at NATO HQ in Brussels was opened in 2016, with several cooperation agreements following. However, as NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg confirmed last week, the bloc’s security guarantees do not apply to Israel since it is not a member of the alliance.

According to the Pentagon, the ‘Saber Strike’ maneuvers include “rapid response infiltration,” air assault operations and the evacuation of non-combatants. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that ‘Swift Response’ drills “simulate combating military uprisings in Europe.”

Additionally, 37 warships are docked at the Lithuanian port city of Klaipeda for an ongoing naval drill ‘BALTOPS’. All in all, the exercise led by US 6th Fleet Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti will involve 60 aircraft and 42 ships from 22 nations. The drills, which simulate a military conflict between two countries, will see the NATO naval forces working on improving the maneuverability of vessels, convoying of ships as well as performing live firings and searches for mines.

All the war games are taking place close to the Russian border, and Moscow has been regularly warning that NATO military buildup at its doorstep undermines the stability and security climate on the European continent. The US-led block boosted its military presence and intensified military exercises near Eastern Europe after Moscow’s reunion with Crimea and the beginning of the military conflict in Ukraine in 2014.

Russia is “closely monitoring” the NATO war games, “especially, those, which take place in certain proximity to our borders,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said. “It goes without saying that our agencies are taking all the necessary measures to assure the security of our country against the backdrop of such maneuvers.”

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