NATO kicked off nearly a two-week, US-led naval exercise on the Baltic Sea on Sunday with more than 7,000 sailors, airmen, and marines from 16 nations, including two aspiring to join the military alliance, Finland and Sweden. The annual BALTOPS naval exercise, initiated in 1972, is not held in response to any specific threat, the AP reports. But the military alliance said that "with both Sweden and Finland participating, NATO is seizing the chance in an unpredictable world to enhance its joint force resilience and strength" together with the two Nordic aspirant nations.
Finland and Sweden both had a long history of military nonalignment before their governments decided to apply to join NATO in May, a direct result of Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Over the past years, Moscow has repeatedly warned Helsinki and Stockholm against joining the Western military alliance and threatened retaliatory measures if they did. Ahead of the naval drill, which involved 45 vessels and 75 aircraft, the top US military official said in Sweden—host of the BALTOPS 22 exercise—that it was particularly important for NATO to show support to the governments in Helsinki and Stockholm.
"It is important for us, the United States, and the other NATO countries to show solidarity with both Finland and Sweden in this exercise," Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Saturday during a news conference aboard the amphibious warship USS Kearsarge, which was moored in central Stockholm. Speaking with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, Milley stressed that the Baltic Sea is a strategically important body of water. The US has never before moved such a large warship as the 843-foot USS Kearsarge in the Swedish capital, where it sailed through narrow passages in the Stockholm archipelago, Milley said. BALTOPS 22 is scheduled to conclude in the German port of Kiel on June 17.
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