The 43rd annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise begins today, with four additional countries participating and significantly more troops involved compared to last year’s event.
Seventeen countries will participate in the U.S.-led exercise – with Belgium, Canada, Norway and Turkey added to last year’s participants – for a total of 5,600 ground, maritime and air forces.
The exercise runs from June 5 to 20 and will take place in Poland, Sweden, Germany and throughout the Baltic Sea, according to a news release from U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet.
“This exercise represents an important opportunity for our forces, as allies and partners, to enhance our ability to work together and strengthen capabilities required to maintain regional security,” Vice Adm. James Foggo, commander of U.S. 6th Fleet and commander of NATO’s Striking and Support Forces, said in the news release.
“This exercise will be conducted in a truly joint environment, and I look forward to working with and learning from so many different nations and services.”
A total of 49 ships, 61 aircraft and one submarine will participate this year, compared to 30 ships and 52 aircraft last year. The exercise will also include a combined landing force of 700 Swedish, Finnish and U.S. troops. The multinational group will practice air defense, maritime interdiction, anti-submarine warfare and amphibious operations in a joint environment to boost capability and interoperability.
In addition to BALTOPS, Exercise Noble Jump, which is the first deployment test for NATO’s new quick reaction force, will take place in Poland from June 9 to 19.
The U.S. military and NATO said BALTOPS has taken place since 1971 and is not being held in reaction to any particular threat. Russian state controlled media outlet RT.com, however, noted that “the war games will be taking place just miles off the Russian coastal exclave of Kaliningrad, a gulf area sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.”
When BALTOPS 2014 took place, Russia had already annexed Crimea. Since then, the security situation in Ukraine and the relationship between Russia and the West have only deteriorated. Commercial airliner Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine during fighting in July, columns of Russian tanks entered Ukraine in August, and the number and size of Russian weapons moving into Ukraine increased throughout the fall and winter.
The Russian news article implies that BALTOPS 2015 is another in a line of escalatory military displays between Russia and the West.
“Since Russia’s reunion with Crimea and the start of the military conflict in eastern Ukraine last spring, NATO forces have stepped up military exercises along the Russian border – in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe,” the June 4 article continues.
“Russia responded with an increased number of flights of its Russian long-range ‘Bear’ or Tu-95 bombers in the vicinity of the airspace of NATO members and large-scale drills on own territory. Despite failing to provide any proof, the West blames Russia for masterminding the Ukrainian unrest and supporting the rebels in country’s eastern Donetsk and Lugansk Regions.”