Russia begins major air force exercise

Hundreds of Russian warplanes and thousands of troops began a major military exercise Tuesday, coinciding with Arctic maneuvers by NATO forces.

The separate exercises come at a time of increased tensions between Russia and the West.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Russia has committed 12,000 troops, up to 250 military jets and hundreds of other weapons to this week’s “tactical exercises.” Russian media accounts said the maneuvers were meant to simulate the military response to an attack from abroad, by rapidly redeploying troops to stage counterattacks.

Russia’s exercises stretch from the Volga River to Siberia, and are due to last three days. They are seen as a preliminary to a larger round of war games later this year.

NATO’s Arctic Challenge Exercise 2015, which has just begun, follows pledges of closer military cooperation by countries where Russia has recently increased its air forces’ activity. The nine countries that have seen a rise in Russian air and naval movements near their borders include the five Nordic nations: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

The Nordic maneuvers are being carried out by 4,000 military personnel and 100 fighter jets from the United States and eight European nations. They will continue until June 4; the following day, the Western alliance’s annual Baltic operations exercise will bring together 4,500 troops from 17 member states.

Russia stepped up exercises

Russia’s military has intensified drills and maneuvers since Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and has become increasingly involved in the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Most analysts say that relations between Russia and the West are at the lowest point since the Cold War.

Poland and the three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – have increased military spending and have asked NATO allies, particularly the United States, to step up their presence. NATO is already conducting air policing missions in its Baltic members bordering Russia.


(Main photo: Sergey Chaikovski)