20 NATO warships have commenced military drills in the waters just off of the Lithuanian Baltic Sea coast.
Warships from Britain, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway are taking part in the war games which commence no Monday until May 14th.
Russia, who see the wargames as an act of aggression, have responded to the military drills by increasing the number of flights of its long-range ‘Bear’ bombers near the airspace of NATO members, and holding some of its own military drills on its own territory.
The ministry added that the naval drills involve joint maneuvering by the combat vessels, shooting, de-mining, interception and the escorting of ships as well as search and rescue operations. The warships will also practice interactions among NATO allies during international operation, including cooperation with the alliance’s rapid reaction forces.
The development comes as NATO’s ground forces are also currently engaged in two other military maneuvers in the Baltic states.
Up to 3,000 Lithuanian forces are participating in the Zaibo Kirtis (Lightning Strike) war games aimed at perfecting joint action by the military and civilian authorities against the so-called ‘hybrid threats,’ merging both military and non-military battle techniques.
Estonia, meanwhile, is also holding its largest-ever military drills called Siil (Hedgehog) 2015 with the involvement of 13,000 troops.
Baltic Fortress war games have been conducted annually since 2008 with the host country rotating each year. The current naval drills also include the participation of troops from the US and the nine NATO member states.
NATO forces have expanded their military maneuvers along the Russian border – in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe – since Moscow’s reunion with the Crimea and the outbreak of a military conflict in eastern Ukraine last year.
Russia in turn has reacted with increasing the number of flights of its long-range ‘Bear’ or Tu-95 bombers near the airspace of NATO members as well as holding major combat drills on its own territory.
The West blames the Kremlin for masterminding the Ukrainian unrest and backing the pro-Russia forces in country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a charge denied by Moscow.
The development comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated last week that Moscow is prepared to renew its strategic partnership with NATO, which has been halted over the Ukrainian crisis.
Lavrov stated, “I want to say with all honesty: We are receiving signals from our NATO partners that it wouldn’t hurt to renew cooperation between our military departments.”