Amid NATO exercises, Russia puts Northern Fleet on ‘full alert’

NATO

NATO

(CNN) — As the U.S. and several Eastern European NATO countries conduct a series of military exercises near Russia’s border, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his Northern Fleet “to full alert in a snap combat readiness exercise” in the Arctic, state-run media reported Monday.

At least one Russian leader described the drill as routine and unrelated to the “international situation.”

The fleet got its orders at 8 a.m. Monday, according to Sputnik, launching a land, sea and air drill that will involve 38,000 troops, 41 ships, 15 submarines and 110 aircraft, according to Sputnik.

“The main task of the (combat readiness drill) is to assess the armed forces from the Northern Fleet’s capabilities in fulfilling tasks in providing military security of the Russian Federation in the Arctic region,” Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergey Shoigu told the media outlet. “New challenges and threats of military security demand the further heightening of military capabilities of the armed forces and special attention will be paid to the state of the newly formed strategic merging (of forces) in the North.”

The drills will run through Friday, Sputnik reported.

A flotilla of minesweepers will support the Northern Fleet’s nuclear submarines in the Barents Sea as part of the drill, the Tass news agency reported, citing a Defense Ministry statement.

“Mine-sweeping groups of the Kola Flotilla have moved to the designated areas of the Barents within the framework of a snap check of combat readiness of the Northern Fleet forces for supporting the deployment of the main forces of the fleet, including the deployment of nuclear and diesel submarines of the Northern Fleet,” the statement says.

The ships will conduct magnetic, acoustic and contact demining sweeps during the drill, Tass reported.

Despite a number of countries participating in various military drills in Eastern Europe, a Kremlin spokesman described the Northern Fleet inspection as routine practice aimed at improving military capabilities.

“The practice of snap checks will become regular, as it is beneficial for improving the mechanisms of control and operation of the armed forces. This is an absolutely regular process of the armed forces’ operation, of preparation and development of Russia’s armed forces,” Dmitry Peskov told Tass on Monday.

Conversely, a diplomat told Tass that Russia was “deeply concerned” about NATO drills near its border.

“It is especially surprising that this is happening in Northeastern Europe, which is the most stable region not only on our continent, but also maybe in the whole world,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Meshkov said. “Such NATO actions lead to destabilization of the situation and increasing tensions in Northeastern Europe.”

Among the recent drills in Eastern Europe:

• In its largest military operation in decades, Norway sent 5,000 troops to conduct military exercises between Alta and Lakselv in Finnmark county, which borders Russia, according to the Barents Observer.

• About 100 U.S. soldiers are expected to conduct an exercise this month using a Patriot missile battery and a Polish air defense brigade “at a location on Polish territory,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said. The exercise is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which began in response to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea last year, the U.S. Defense Department said.

• Also as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the U.S. Army will soon send armored Stryker vehicles on a 1,100-mile convoy through six European countries to show solidarity with its allies. The “highly visible” convoy will travel through Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and the Czech Republic en route to Vilseck, Germany, a U.S. Army Europe spokesman told the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

• In a “regularly scheduled” exercise aimed at demonstrating NATO’s commitment to “collective defense” in the Black Sea, the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two — a collection of warships — will train with the Bulgarian, Romanian and Turkish navies and visit Varna, Bulgaria, to meet with local authorities and navy officials, NATO said.

• The U.S. Air Force moved a dozen A-10 Thunderbolt “tankbuster” attack jets to an air base in Germany and the U.S. military placed hundreds of tanks and military vehicles in Latvia, where they’ll be matched up with 3,000 troops from Fort Stewart, Georgia.

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