More than 3,000 Nato troops – including almost 200 sailors from Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Kent – have been operating in the icy waters of the Baltic Sea for the annual Baltops exercise.
But aviators from Russia’s Baltic fleet have been flexing their muscles in a show of aerial power, with Mi-24 gunships unleashing a deadly display on ground-based targets, Russia’s military said.
Meanwhile a dozen of Russia’s Su-24, Su-27 and Su-30 combat jets practised strikes against marine targets, last week.
Russia’s military noted its drills were being carried out in the middle of the Baltops exercise. It’s unclear how close their operations were to the Nato exercises.
However, the situation has been branded ‘dangerous’ by a former head of the Royal Navy, who is urging Russia to back down.
Admiral Lord Alan West said: ‘The Russians have been very dangerous in the last couple of years where they have flown very close to other aircraft that are operating in an unnecessary and very dangerous way.
‘Historically one has always monitored other people’s exercises. But Russia has had a number of very dangerous near-misses and the problem is there could be an accident and things could escalate.
‘It’s very dangerous of them and not very clever for them to be operating like this. The trouble is over the last two years, with Putin in charge, they have become more aggressive.’
Baltops, now in its 49th year, involves more than two dozen warships – including two from the Royal Navy – as well as a similar number of aircraft.
It’s designed to test both the effectiveness of Nato naval and air power in a large-scale response in the region, with drills ranging from drone assaults, torpedo attacks and plucking casualties from the water, to taking on supplies from unusual ships.
Moscow has repeatedly raised fears over the deployment of Nato forces near Russian borders, branding it a security threat.
Both Russia and Nato have also blamed each other for conducted ‘destabilising’ military drills near borders.
The latest Nato exercise has seen Portsmouth-based HMS Kent cover more than 500 miles at sea.
Among the drills carried out by the crew included marksmanship tests for Kent’s upper deck gunners.
Sailors dialled in their scopes using machine-guns and miniguns, as well as the 30mm automatic small calibre gun against dummy surface targets before facing an aerial onslaught by Banshee drones – 9ft long, 8ft wingspan, moving at about 120mph.
Also put to the test were the flight team as maintainers prepared and loaded a dummy Sting Ray torpedo for the Merlin helicopter, during an exercise hunting out enemy submarines.
The frigate joined the exercise after a brief stop in Gothenburg. Precautions to safeguard the crew from coronavirus meant there was no opportunity to step ashore in the Swedish port.
Aside from HMS Kent, minehunter HMS Ramsey is also involved in the exercise, working as part of a Nato mine warfare task group which she joined last month.