Ukraine has begun joint military exercises with the United States and other NATO countries amid increased activity of the Western military alliance near Russia’s borders.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday that the annual Rapid Trident exercises involve some 6,000 soldiers from 15 countries.
“The main goal is to prepare for joint actions as part of a multinational force during coalition operations,” the statement read.
A ministry spokesman confirmed that 4,000 Ukrainian troops and 2,000 foreigners would participate in the drills, due to run until October.
Brigadier General Vladyslav Klochkov said the drills were “an important step towards Ukraine's European integration.”
“The Ukrainian military, which has been holding back Russian aggression for eight years, will share its unique combat experience with its international colleagues.”
Russia and Belarus recently held military exercises mainly focused on launching a counteroffensive against enemy forces, with Russia’s Northern Fleet and Air Force practicing repelling an attack near its border with Norway.
The foreign ministers of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia accused Russia of not being transparent about the drills that came amid heightened tensions between the West and Belarus.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy raised concerns about such large-scale military drills last week, saying an all-out war with Russia was a possibility.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, brushed off their concerns, saying that “joint military exercises are a regular process.”
Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been strained since conflict erupted in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region between Ukrainian government forces and ethnic Russians in 2014. The US, the European Union, and Ukraine claim that Russia has a hand in the conflict. Moscow strongly rejects the allegation.
That same year, the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea voted to fall under the Russian sovereignty in a referendum, further complicating the relations.
Moscow and Washington have deep-seated differences over a host of other issues as well, including arms control, human rights, and cybersecurity.