US-led NATO has launched its annual BALTOPS maritime exercise in the Baltic Sea region, which Russia is closely monitoring.
In recent months, Russia and NATO have been arguing over Russian military armament on the border with Ukraine. While Ukraine has enjoyed US and NATO support since 2014, Moscow justifies its recent military build-up in response to NATO’s threats in the region.
The NATO War Games come weeks after five surface combatants from the Leningrad naval base of the Russian Baltic Fleet carried out artillery fire during exercises in the Gulf of Finland.
According to the news agency Mehr, Moscow believes the US and NATO are fueling military tensions in Europe.
The BALTOPS An exercise with NATO allies and partners began on June 6th. This year up to 18 countries are participating in the exercise. There are three main components of the exercise – Combat Enhancement Training (CET), Force Integration Training (FIT), and a Tactical Phase of the Exercise (TACEX).
It is assumed that 40 naval forces, 60 aircraft and 4,000 soldiers from 16 NATO and 2 partner countries will take part in the exercise. This year, the exercise also includes defensive cyberwar tactics, as well as other training events such as air defense, anti-submarine defense, and amphibious operations.
BALTOPS has been held since 1972 and is intended to increase the interoperability and flexibility of the participants, see above Naval news. The exercises end on June 18th.
# SNMG1 started ex # BALTOPS50 Today – an annual joint, multinational, maritime defense exercise aimed at enhancing interoperability, flexibility and demonstrating the determination of Allied and Partner forces to defend the Baltic Sea region#WeAreNATO# Stronger together pic.twitter.com/uk1wsXRL0d
– COM-SNMG1 (@ COM_SNMG1) June 6, 2021
The Russia-Ukraine conflict
In March of this year, Reports began the inflow of the Russian military towards its eastern border with Ukraine and Crimea. At the time, the spokesman for the Russian President had described the movement of Russian troops in the region as an “internal matter”.
In April, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the movement of Russian troops – infantry and airborne troops – was part of an exercise on the western border. Russia accused NATO of “threatening actions” and named its own troop movement as part of its response.
The NATO Secretary General had described the Russian armament as “unjustified and deeply worrying”.
On April 23, Russia finally ordered the withdrawal of its troops from the border. But even after weeks of the announcement, the troop withdrawal was not yet complete.
According to Reports In May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia had only withdrawn 3,500 soldiers. According to some reports, around 10,000 Russian soldiers are still deployed near the Ukrainian border.
The recent Russian rearmament at the borders has brought the Donbas region into focus. The region has a large majority of Russian speakers, many with Russian passports.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been increasing since 2014 after Moscow annexed Crimea.
In 2014 and 2015, the Minsk Accords were signed, which aimed to deter conflicts between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists. In one (n previous report, The Eurasian Times had provided details of the conflict.
The report said that the agreements also called for a ceasefire in the region and authorized the Kiev government to give Donbass a special status through a constitutional amendment.
The agreements called for the pro-Russian separatists to withdraw from the Ukrainian-Russian border. The terms of the agreements could never be respected, and both sides held each other responsible for violating the ceasefire.
In 2019, Russian and Ukrainian heads of state and government met in Paris and decided to uphold the Minsk Agreement. Accordingly, both sides decided to maintain a full ceasefire in 2020. But also this year tensions flared up between the two.
US and NATO support to Ukraine
In April, NATO expressed concern about the Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Brussels speaks ahead of a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels estimated that Russia has stationed around 40,000 soldiers on the border, which is the largest Russian deployment on the Ukrainian border since 2014.
Blinken has announced US cooperation with Ukraine on far-reaching issues, a move that may have angered Moscow more. On the eve of his visit to Ukraine last month, he had highlighted “Unshakable US support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in the face of ongoing Russian aggression.” in the
US Senator Rob Portman is also said to have expressed his support for Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Since 2014, the US has provided Ukraine with US $ 4.6 billion in security and non-security assistance.
The US had previously stated that Russia may have stationed the Pantsir-S1 air defense systems (NATO report name SA-22) in the region. The Pantsir-S1 was designed to cater to Air defense of military, industrial and administrative facilities against aircraft, helicopters, precision ammunition, cruise missiles and UAVs.
It can also provide air defense units with additional protection against enemy air attacks with precision ammunition, especially at low to extremely low altitudes.
In April the EurAsian Times reported, citing Satellite images that Russia had its warplanes, including the SU-34, stationed near the border with Ukraine and in the Crimea.