NATO troops from 10 member countries have arrived in Lithuania where they will be holding a 10-day military exercise – named Iron Wolf 2017 – aimed at deterring Russian “aggression.”
Around 5,300 troops are expected to participate in the drills. Troops from Belgium, Germany, Croatia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the UK and the US began their maneuvers on Monday in Pabrade and Rukla, near Kaunas.
According to Lithuanian defense ministry, the exercise will be held in southern, central and eastern Lithuania.
German-led Forward Presence (eFP) Battalion Battle Group, also comprising soldiers from Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway will be testing their capabilities in drills which will last until June 23rd, and will be supervised by Lithuanian troops from the Iron Wolf Mechanised Infantry Brigade and the Žemaitija Brigade Motorized Infantry unit.
“In order to ensure the quality of the country’s defense readiness and our interoperability with allies, we will have to move part of the exercise to civilian areas. As a result, in June Lithuanian residents will see an increase in the movement of troops not only in training areas, but also on civilian roads and private areas,” Lithuanian Land Forces commander Brig. Gen. Valdemaras Rupsys said at a press conference, as quoted by the newspaper Respublika.
The military drills in Lithuania represent part of a broader NATO exercise known as Saber Strike, taking place in the Baltic states and Poland. NATO has increased its military presence across Eastern Europe during last two years, following the conflict in Ukraine and Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
NATO claims that its increased military presence in Eastern Europe represents a response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and a deterrence to possible aggression throughout Europe. Western countries have accused Russia of destabilizing the region and providing weapons and support to rebels in Eastern Ukraine.
Moscow, on the other hand, has expressed concerns about NATO military build-up along its border, and considers it as a threat to national security.
High ranking Russian officials have repeatedly accused NATO of aggressive expansion in Eastern Europe.