HELSINKI (AP) — NATO on Sunday kicked off a nearly two-week U.S.-led naval exercise on the Baltic Sea with more than 7,000 sailors, airmen and marines from 16 nations, including two aspiring to join the military alliance, Finland and Sweden.
The annual BALTOPS naval exercise, launched in 1972, is not organized in response to a specific threat. But the military alliance said that “with the participation of Sweden and Finland, NATO is seizing the opportunity in an unpredictable world to enhance the resilience and strength of its joint forces” with two Nordic aspirant nations .
Both Finland and Sweden have a long history of military non-alignment before their governments decided to apply to join NATO in May, a direct result of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. In recent years, Moscow has repeatedly warned Helsinki and Stockholm against joining the Western military alliance and warned against retaliatory measures if they do.
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Ahead of the naval exercise, which involved 45 ships and 75 aircraft, the senior US military official said in Sweden – the host of the BALTOPS 22 exercise – that it was particularly important for NATO to show support for governments from Helsinki and Stockholm.
“It is important for us, the United States and other NATO countries, to show solidarity with Finland and Sweden in this exercise,” US General Mark Milley, Chief of State, said on Saturday. Joint Major, during a press conference on board. the large amphibious warfare ship USS Kearsarge, which was moored in central Stockholm.
Milley, speaking to Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, stressed that the Baltic Sea is a strategically important body of water – “one of the world’s great sea lanes”.
READ MORE: Turkey’s Erdogan remains opposed to Finnish and Swedish NATO candidacies
He said that from Moscow’s perspective Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership would be “very problematic” and would leave Russia in a difficult military position as the Baltic Sea coastline would be almost completely surrounded. by NATO members, with the exception of the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad and the Russian city. of St. Petersburg and its surroundings.
Turkey, a NATO member with good relations with Russia, has opposed Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance, citing their alleged support for a Kurdish group that Turkey calls of terrorist. The NATO chief attempted to resolve the dispute.
The United States has never before moved a warship as large as the 843ft USS Kearsarge to the Swedish capital, where it sailed through narrow passages in the Stockholm archipelago, Milley said.
As close NATO partners, Finland and Sweden have participated in the naval exercise since the mid-1990s.
BALTOPS 22 is due to finish in the German port of Kiel on June 17.