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04/12/2016

Poland says Russian manoeuvres in Baltic unprecedented

Europe's East

Poland says Russian manoeuvres in Baltic unprecedented

The T-90S, Russia's main battle tank. [Dimitry Terekhov/Flickr]

[Dimitry Terekhov/Flickr]

Russia’s military is engaging in an unprecedented amount of activity around the Baltic Sea, Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said on Thursday (11 December).

The minister said that Poland, a member of NATO, was not under threat of attack and the Russian manoeuvres were most likely designed to test how NATO forces in the region reacted.

NATO says its patrols in the region have seen heightened activity by Russia’s military, especially its aircraft, since the beginning of the standoff between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.

Since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula earlier this year, NATO has also beefed up air patrols of the Baltic region and moved soldiers and equipment to eastern Europe for exercises.

Moscow says by stepping up its presence on Russia’s borders, the alliance is further fuelling tensions. The alliance says those measures are to reassure its eastern European members, who fear they could be Russia’s next target.

“Over the past few days we have seen unprecedented activity by the Russians in the Baltic Sea, both the Baltic fleet and Russian aircraft,” Siemoniak told Polish broadcaster TVN24.

“We are concerned about that. NATO is trying to prepare some kind of reaction,” he said, without saying what form that response would take.

“We are not under threat of attack. These activities don’t have the character of preparing for an attack.”

Background

NATO announced it will deploy its forces at new bases in eastern Europe, in response to the Ukraine crisis.

NATO's top commander in Europe has proposed that the Polish city of Szczecin expand its existing base to help the military alliance respond faster to any threat posed by Russia.

>> Read: NATO to expand Polish base in response to Russian threat

The Alliance accuses Russia of sending troops and weapons to Ukraine to aid the pro-Moscow separatists in violation of a ceasefire.

Russia, for its part, accuses NATO of destabilising northern Europe and the Baltics by carrying out drills there and announced new military exercises of its own.

Russia announced it would hold more military exercises in 2015 than this year - including one in the Central military district that includes Moscow, and another involving Belarus.

>> Read: Russia and NATO trade accusations