Baltic officials said regional security had been weakened as Russia led military exercises on their doorstep involving almost 12,000 troops.
A week of land and sea maneuvers dubbed “Zapad 2013,” or “West 2013,” began today as part of biennial exercises with Belarus, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on its website. Troops in both nations tested coordination in destroying “illegal armed formations,” it said.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which regained independence in 1991 after half a century of Soviet rule, joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004 amid Russian opposition. NATO has held exercises in the Baltic region since 2010, while Russia has opened new military bases and deployed more troops on its western border in recent years, according to the defense ministers of Estonia and Latvia.
While Russia calls today’s maneuvers an anti-terrorism exercise, they suggest an escalation “into a conflict with NATO member countries,” Estonian Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu said yesterday. “An exercise of this nature is certainly negatively affecting the security environment in the region.”