Nato begins Baltic Sea drills including Sweden and Finland

Naval exercises involve 16 countries, 7,000 troops and 45 warships

The American amphibious assault ship 'USS Kearsage' arrives in Stockholm, Sweden, for naval exercises in the Baltic. EPA
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Nato has begun two-week naval drills in the Baltic Sea as the region tightens its defences in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Prospective Nato members Sweden and Finland, who handed in simultaneous membership applications last month, are among 16 countries taking part in the BALTOPS 22 exercises.

They will involve about 7,000 troops, 75 aircraft and 45 warships and put Nato’s amphibious operations, anti-submarine capabilities, air defences and mine clearance to the test over 10 scheduled days of war games.

The annual drills are not being held specifically to counter the Russian threat, but they come as Nato prepares to strengthen its eastern flank and potentially admit two new members who face Russia across the Baltic.

Poland, Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, all Nato members with a Baltic coastline, have announced increases in defence spending since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

All those countries, as well as Nato allies Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Britain, Norway, the Netherlands, the US and Turkey, are taking part in the drills along with Sweden and Finland, which have participated as guests before.

“In past iterations of BALTOPS, we’ve talked about meeting the challenges of tomorrow. Those challenges are upon us — in the here and now,” said Vice Admiral Gene Black, commander of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet.

The British military, which has sent the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender to the exercises, said the drills would “serve to assure those in the region that Nato is ready to defend itself”.

In one simulation, Defender and a group of Lithuanian, Latvian and Norwegian warships were “attacked” by a swarm of P2000 patrol boats also on deployment from the UK.

People on the dockside in Stockholm, Sweden look at an American warship arriving for Nato exercises. Getty

The exercises have taken place every year since 1972, when much of the Baltic coast was controlled by Soviet satellite states. Countries including Estonia and Latvia took part in the early post-Cold War era before they joined Nato.

A Finnish security review which paved the way for the country’s Nato application said enlargement would increase the stability of the Baltic region.

Finland’s accession would double Russia’s land border with Nato, angering a Kremlin leadership which for years has campaigned against expansion. Sweden has no land border with Russia.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said the alliance will defend “every inch” of its territory against any Russian aggression.

Updated: June 06, 2022, 3:00 PM
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