NATO began nearly two weeks of naval exercises in the Baltic Sea on Sunday with the participation of more than 7,000 navies, air forces and marines from 16 countries, including two aspiring to join the military alliance, Finland and Sweden. .
The annual Baltops naval exercises, which began in 1972, have not been held in response to any specific threat, but the military alliance said “with the participation of Sweden and Finland, NATO seizes the opportunity in an unpredictable world to improve the resistance and strength of their combined forces” with the two aspiring Nordic nations.
For years, Finland and Sweden had no military alliance, until their government decided to apply for NATO membership in May, as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. In recent years, Moscow has repeatedly warned Helsinki and Stockholm against joining the Western military alliance and warned of retaliation if they did.
Ahead of the naval exercises, which involved 45 ships and 75 aircraft, the senior US military official in Sweden, the site of the TOPS 22 exercise, said it was particularly important for NATO to show its support for the governments in Helsinki and Stockholm.
“It is important that we, the United States and other NATO countries show our solidarity with both Finland and Sweden in these exercises,” US General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference on Saturday. Aboard the amphibious battleship USS Kearsarge, which is moored in central Stockholm.
Milly, accompanied by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, stressed that the Baltic Sea is a body of water of great strategic importance, “one of the largest sea routes in the world”.
He stated that, from Moscow’s point of view, the entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO would be “extremely problematic” and would leave Russia in a complicated military situation, since the Baltic Sea coast would be almost entirely surrounded by NATO members. NATO, with the exception of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the Russian city of Saint Petersburg and its environs.
Turkey, a NATO member state that maintains good relations with Russia, has opposed Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance, citing their alleged support for a Kurdish group designated as terrorist by Turkey.
The head of NATO tried to resolve the conflict.
Milley said the United States had never brought the 257-meter (843-foot) warship USS Kearsarge to the Swedish capital, as it sailed through narrow passages in the Stockholm archipelago.
As close NATO partners, Finland and Sweden have participated in naval exercises since the mid-1990s.
It is scheduled to end on Top 22 in the German port of Kiel on June 17.