One of the biggest-ever North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) exercises in the Baltics is now under way.
Named “Hedgehog”, the drills involve ten countries, including Finland and Sweden, which are expected to formally apply to join the alliance within days.
The exercises in Estonia, which will last until June 3, were arranged before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin has said Russia has no issue with Finland or Sweden, but a military expansion near its border would demand a reaction.
Sweden on Monday confirmed its intention to apply for NATO membership, joining Finland, which declared its position last week.
NATO has 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 is taking place 64km (40 miles) from Russia’s nearest military base. It is intended to simulate an attack from Russia on Estonia.
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 has avoided joining military alliances.
Finland, meanwhile, shares a 1 300-km (810-mile) border with Russia. Until now, it has stayed out of NATO to avoid antagonising its eastern neighbour.
The exercises were planned before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. But amid the growing security threat from Russia, they are being closely watched. (BBC)