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20 NATO warships engage in major war games in the Baltics

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Warships of the NATO Standing Maritime Group-2 take part in a military drill on the Black Sea, March 16, 2015. © AFP

Nearly 20 warships representing nine member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have commenced the Baltic Fortress 2015 military drills in waters off the Lithuanian Baltic Sea coast.

Naval vessels from Britain, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway are taking part in the war games, which began Monday along with a Lithuanian Navy submarine unit and two military aircraft and are due to continue in Lithuanian territorial waters until May 14, according to Lithuania’s Ministry of National Defense as cited in an RT report.

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.

Lithuanian army troops during a military exercise (file photo)

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.

Romanian frigate "Regina Maria" of the NATO Standing Maritime Group-2 in a military drill on the Black Sea, March 16, 2015 © AFP 

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.

File photo of NATO troops during a military exercise

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.”

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