NATO on Sunday began a nearly two-week US-led naval exercise on the Baltic Sea with more than 7,000 sailors, airmen and marines from 16 countries keen to join the two military alliances, Finland and Sweden.
The annual BALTOPS naval exercise started in 1972 is not conducted in response to any specific threat. But the military alliance said that “with both Sweden and Finland participating, NATO is taking advantage of the opportunity in an unpredictable world to engage with the two Nordic aspirational nations to increase their combined strength, resilience and strength.”
Both Finland and Sweden have a long history of military non-alignment, before their governments decided to apply to join NATO in May, a direct result of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. In past years, Moscow has repeatedly warned Helsinki and Stockholm against joining a Western military alliance and warned if they retaliated.
Ahead of the naval exercise, which involved 45 ships and 75 aircraft, the top US military official said in Sweden – the host of the Baltops 22 exercise – that it was particularly important for NATO to show support to the governments in Helsinki and Stockholm.
“For us, it is important for the United States and other NATO countries to show solidarity with both Finland and Sweden in this exercise,” US General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a news conference on Saturday. The larger amphibious battleship USS Caresurge, which was docked in central Stockholm.
Mille, speaking with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersen, stressed that the Baltic Sea is a strategically important body of water – “one of the world’s great sea routes.”
He said that from Moscow’s perspective, Finland and Sweden joining NATO would be “very problematic” and would leave Russia in a difficult military position as the Baltic Sea coastline would be almost entirely surrounded by NATO members, except Russia. Except for the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad and the Russian city of K. of St. Petersburg and its surrounding areas.
Turkey, a NATO member that has good relations with Russia, has objected to Finland and Sweden joining a military alliance, citing its alleged support for a Kurdish group that Turkey labels as a terrorist. . NATO chiefs are trying to resolve this dispute.
Milley said the United States has never before moved a warship so large as the 843-foot USS Caresurge in the Swedish capital, where it sailed through narrow passages in the Stockholm archipelago.
As close allies of NATO, Finland and Sweden have participated in naval exercises since the mid-1990s.
BALTOPS 22 is scheduled to end in the German port of Kiel on 17 June.