NATO has launched military drills in Estonia with a record-breaking 6,000 troops, amid rising tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
The exercises, dubbed Spring Storm, began on Monday. They have been held annually in Estonia since 2003.
However, this year they are being held in five counties, including those close to the border with Russia.
In a statement released on the same day, the Estonian Defense Ministry said, “This year’s Spring Storm brings together a record number of allied troops – infantry from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (a part of British army), soldiers from Latvia, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the US army, as well as soldiers from Lithuania.”
Britain, France, and the United States have been deploying troops to the Baltic region since April 29.
The US Marines will reportedly remain in Estonia until the end of this year. NATO has also deployed fighter jets and naval vessels to Lithuania and Poland.
Tensions between the Western powers and Moscow heightened after the Autonomous Republic of Crimea declared independence from Ukraine and formally applied to become part of the Russian Federation following a referendum on March 16, in which nearly 97 percent of voters in Crimea chose to rejoin Russia.
The United States and its European allies accuse Russia of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty by stirring up pro-Russia protests in eastern Ukraine.
Russia denies the allegation, saying the protests have begun spontaneously against what it calls the illegitimate interim government in Kiev.