Finland and Sweden are preparing for an expanded NATO naval exercise in the Baltic Sea on Sunday, amid Turkish concerns over their membership.
NATO’s 15-day “Baltops 22” is hosted this year by Sweden, with the participation of the Finnish Navy and Air Force.
Military leaders hinted that it is no coincidence that the NATO military exercise is bigger than in previous years.
US commander Vice Admiral Eugene Black told reporters on Saturday: “This year’s exercise is probably about 30 percent larger than last year.
“45 ships, 76 aircraft, 16 countries – including 14 NATO allies, and two very close partners” will be involved, he added.
“The purpose of the exercise is to develop the interoperability of the United States, NATO and partner nations in joint air and sea operations and amphibious operations,” the Finnish Defense Forces said in a statement on Wednesday. .
About 200 members of the Finnish Navy will join the exercise from June 5 to 17.
Sweden and Finland reversed traditional neutrality policies by making offers to join the 30-member defensive alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine.
US General Mark Milley met with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Friday to pledge US support for the Nordic duo’s NATO membership, with the shallow Baltic Sea now playing a central role in the alliance’s defensive calculus.
While still pending, membership applications from Sweden and Finland have been blocked by Turkey and criticized by the country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“I speak very clearly about Sweden and Finland in NATO,” Erdoğan said at the opening of the 30th consultation and evaluation meeting of Turkey’s ruling AK party in Kizilcahamam district in Ankara. “The whole world should know this: NATO is not an organization that will provide security against terrorism.
Turkey is angry at what it sees as Sweden and Finland’s willingness to take in Kurds affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
Sweden and Finland blocked arms exports to Turkey after launching a 2019 military incursion into northern Syria.
Erdogan added: “Right now, terrorist organizations are walking around freely in Sweden and Finland, carrying the posters of the leader of the terrorist organization, doing it under the security of the Swedish and Finnish police, doing it under the security of German, French, and Dutch police, while all these campaigns are being waged against Turkey.”
Sweden and Finland have repeatedly denied providing financial aid or military support to Kurdish groups or entities in Syria.
All member states must agree before a new country can be admitted into NATO.
Meanwhile, around 1,800 troops from eight NATO countries are taking part in an exercise in southeastern Romania.
NATO has also strengthened its presence here since Russia launched its military assault on Ukraine in February.