‘Must prepare for the worst’ NATO sends 3,000 troops to Russian border in show of force

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The move comes as the war between Ukraine and Russia is well over 100 days in, with no sign of slowing as Russian forces advance to capture Eastern Ukraine. NATO member states have been cautious to react to the war, but the conflict has triggered Sweden and Finland to rush to join the alliance in a bid to fend off threats from Moscow.

The huge NATO exercise taking place in North-Eastern Europe has aimed at testing air and missile defence capabilities as fears mount the war could spill over into mainland Europe.

Defence Ministers from NATO members gathered in Iceland to discuss the manoeuvres.

Speaking in Reykjavik, Thordis Gylfadottir, Iceland’s Foreign Minister, told the “northern group” of 12 nations, including the UK, that they must prepare for the “worst-case scenario” where Russia was concerned.

She added: “The threat of a direct military aggression against a NATO country can no longer be excluded.”

For more stories like this, follow Defence and Security Correspondent James Lee on Twitter by clicking here: @JamesLee_DE

Exercises saw NATO military jets flying over Poland and the Baltic States pretending to be enemy aircraft to gauge reaction and defence capabilities.

The operation, named Ramstein Legacy, will see 3,000 troops from 17 NATO nations take part in the practice drills.

Included in the task, aircraft, missile defence and electronic warfare systems will be put to the test during the role-playing.

A total of 50 fighter jets or other aircraft have flown in from bases across Europe, and 17 surface-based air and missile defence systems are being tested in a show of force.

100 British soldiers from the 7th Air Defence Group at Amari airbase, Estonia, and Ustka, Poland are participating in the exercise.

They operate Stormer vehicles armed with Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles, which split into three darts that can rip targets apart.

General Jeffrey Harrigian, the commander of Allied Air Command, added: “Given the current security situation following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, large-scale training exercises like this are now more important to NATO than ever.”

The general also said the exercise would enhance the organisation’s ability to defend its territory.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in Iceland that many countries should be “deeply wary” of President Putin’s intentions, adding that the Russian leader did not consider Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to be countries in their own right.

Mr Wallace said: “He feels no compulsion about breaking people’s borders.

“Whether he would be silly or foolish enough to do that in an overt manner with a cruise missile remains to be seen but he would be dealing then with NATO.”

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Wojciech Skurkiewicz, Poland’s deputy Defence Minister, said: “We realise the threats and the dangers that are lurking not only in connection with the Russian aggression in Ukraine but also the hybrid activities in Belarus.”

The training exercise is the second such huge scale operation planned and executed by NATO in North-West Europe since the conflict began.

Earlier this year, NATO troops practised in cold weather conditions near the Arctic Circle, testing capabilities in freezing conditions in a regular training mission that coincided with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ramstein Legacy will run from June 6 to June 10.

For more stories like this, follow Defence and Security Correspondent James Lee on Twitter by clicking here: @JamesLee_DE

A statement by NATO on the exercise said: “Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there has been an increased use of missiles, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and combat aircraft close to the borders of NATO nations.

“This increases the air and missile threat to NATO territory and populations, primarily due to miscalculation or loss of guidance or control.

“Exercises like Ramstein Legacy 22 provide Allied units with the opportunity to practice NATO Tactics, Techniques and Procedures in a realistic multi-domain scenario.

“Ramstein Legacy 22 is a long-planned activity to exercise NATO Command and Control of Allied IAMD capabilities.

“The activities are conducted in compliance with international laws and standards.

“It is a clear expression of NATO’s commitment to readiness which enhances and promotes regional security and stability.”

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