One of the biggest-ever NATO exercises in the Baltics is now taking place.
NATO said the aim of the exercises is to “enhance the readiness and interoperability” of its forces. Some 15,000 troops are involved in the exercise in Estonia, making it one of the largest military drills held in the country since 1991.
The exercise, named “Hedgehog”, involves a total of 10 countries, including Finland and Sweden, which are expected to formally apply to join the NATO alliance within days. The exercises in Estonia (a country in Northern Europe, that borders the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland), will last through to June 3, 2022.
A Warning Ahead
The exercise is taking place 64km (40 miles) from Russia’s nearest military base, and it is intended to simulate an attack from Russia on Estonia.
Already, President Vladimir Putin said his country has no issue with Finland and Sweden, but a military expansion near Russia’s borders would demand some reaction. On the other hand, Sweden on Monday, May 16, 2022, confirmed its intention to apply for NATO membership, now joining the same boat as Finland which declared its position last week.
How Does Russia See NATO?
Russia sees NATO as a security threat and has warned of “consequences” for the prospective new members.
Sweden stayed neutral in World War Two, and for more than two centuries, the country has avoided joining military alliances. Meanwhile, Finland shares a 1,300km (810-mile) border with Russia. Until now, it has stayed out of NATO to avoid antagonising its Eastern neighbour, Russia.
The exercises were planned even before Russia’s invasion on Ukraine which started on Thursday, February 24, 2022. But considering the growing security threat from Russia, they are being closely watched.
Finland and Sweden confirmed that they will apply for NATO membership on Thursday, May 12, 2022, and Sunday, May 15, 2022, respectively. According to reports, they are expected to hand in their formal bids to join the alliance on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.
Fast-tracking the Process to Become a NATO Member
NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, suggested that there could be a fast-tracking process for the application of both countries (Finland and Sweden), with interim security arrangements put in place to deal with any possible Russian retaliation.
Despite its cosy codename, NATO Exercise Hedgehog (“Siil” in Estonian) is taking place at a time when there is heightened tensions in the Baltics, a Security Analyst, Frank Gardner, disclosed. Gardner further pointed out that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has convinced governments in the region that they need to seriously beef up their security defences if they are to deter President Putin from further military aggression.
Estonian Foreign Minister, Eva-Maria Liimets, intimated that “We see that once our close neighbours and friends would join NATO, then, of course, the overall security environment in our region would increase and especially around the Baltic Sea”. But Kremlin Spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia is watching the expansion closely, adding that he is convinced it would not strengthen the security of Europe.
“This is a serious issue, an issue that raises our concern, and we will follow very carefully.”Kremlin Spokesman, Dmitry Peskov
Across Europe, other NATO exercises are being held in Poland, North Macedonia and Lithuania.