NATO: US Ambassador confident on Finland and Sweden joiningMilitary vessels from 14 NATO states arrived in the Nordic capital on Saturday to partic
NATO: US Ambassador confident on Finland and Sweden joining
Military vessels from 14 NATO states arrived in the Nordic capital on Saturday to participate in a training exercise alongside Finland and Sweden. The exercise, called Baltops, aims to test the ability of these countries’ navies, air forces and troops to work together.
Baltops is set to run all week and involve landing exercises along the Swedish and German coastlines.
The USS Kearsarge, an American warship, was among the vessels arriving in Stockholm over the weekend.
The 253-metre-long ship was joined by 44 other vessels, 76 aircraft and approximately 7,000 military personnel.
Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Norway and the United Kingdom are among the participants.
NATO said in a statement: “Fourteen NATO allies, two NATO partner nations, over 45 ships, more than 75 aircraft, and approximately 7,000 personnel will participate in the 51st iteration of the premier maritime-focused exercise from June 5-17.”
The presence of NATO vessels has also been hailed as sending a message to Russia that the military alliance are closely watching both Sweden and Finland, who will be taking part in the exercise.
The two Nordic states applied to join NATO two weeks ago, however, their applications are expected to take months.
The USS Kearsarge moored in Stockholm this weekend.
The exercise, named Baltops, is 30 percent larger this year than in 2021.
Further delays could also be caused by existing member Turkey, who has objected to Sweden and Finland’s bid to join the alliance.
The two countries are therefore left in a sensitive period between application and full NATO membership, prompting concerns over how they will be protected in the coming months.
Speaking at a news conference aboard the USS Kearsarge on Saturday, General Mark Milley, the most senior US military commander, suggested the military exercise was partly intended to quell those fears.
He said: “We are committed to a rules-based international order … and the idea that strong, powerful countries cannot just arbitrarily attack smaller weaker countries as we have seen in Ukraine.”
Sweden’s Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told reporters in Washington two weeks ago that the Pentagon had pledged several interim security measures including US Navy warships present in the Baltic sea, army forces training together and Air Force bombers flying in Scandinavian airspace.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said the arrival of the American warship, in particular, showed US President Joe Biden was honouring commitments he made to her and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö when the two Nordic leaders visited the Washington last month.
She said: “This shows President Biden’s security assurances are followed by actions.”
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Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and US General Mike Milley aboard the USS Kearsarge.
14 NATO countries have sent vessels to take part in the exercise alongside Sweden and Finland.
Baltops is one of a number of military training exercises set to take place over the coming months reportedly to maintain an enhanced NATO presence in the Baltic Sea region.
The drill will be around 30 percent bigger this year than in 2021, with President Biden having asked military leaders to “modestly increase” activities beyond the “significant programme” already scheduled.
Speaking alongside General Milley on Saturday, Sweden’s Mr Hultqvist said he could see “a future here with a lot of activities that makes our part of Europe more secure … during this sensitive time from now until we are full members of NATO.”
He added: “We will have naval vessels in the Baltic Sea over the coming months and also we will have an air force presence in our airspace.”
Sweden and Finland both share a maritime border with Russia, while Finland also has an over 800-mile-long land border with the country.
Their bid to join NATO drew the ire of the Kremlin, with Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov calling their moves “another serious mistake with far-reaching consequences.”
He said: “The general level of military tension will increase, and there will be less predictability in this area.”
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The US ship Kearsarge arrived in Stockholm on Saturday, June 4.
However, Sweden has said it will not bow to Russia’s aggression.
Karin Olofsdotter, Sweden’s ambassador to the United States, said following the move: “As we see it, it’s not their decision to take if we are joining or not. It’s a sovereign Swedish decision.”
She added: “They may try to influence us or intimidate us, which they have to a certain degree, but we are not deterred.
“So we are prepared. We are strong. We have reinforced our security also in the short term. … We’ve seen this coming.”
Russia has since played down its response to the country’s NATO applications, with President Vladimir Putin insisting the move did not create an “immediate threat” for Russia.
He said: “Russia has no problems with Finland and Sweden, and in this sense, expansion at the expense of these countries does not create an immediate threat for us.”
“But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory will certainly provoke our response.”