LONDON — It has been 102 days since Russia began its brutal invasion of Ukraine. Despite tensions rising, NATO began naval exercises in the Baltic Sea along with aspiring members Finland and Sweden. Spain and the U.K. promised Kyiv weaponry, and Russian President Vladimir Putin retaliated with a warning that Moscow would hit new targets if it continued.
NATO’s war games
On Sunday, NATO kicked off a two-week naval exercise in the Baltic Sea that includes more than 7,000 marines, airmen and sailors from 16 countries including Finland and Sweden — who officially applied to the international alliance last month.
Over 45 ships and more than 75 aircraft are also taking part in the Baltic operations coined BALTOPS 22. The U.S.-led games, which began in 1972, are reportedly not in response to any specific threat.
“In past iterations of BALTOPS we’ve talked about meeting the challenges of tomorrow,” Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander of the Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO and U.S. 6th Fleet, said. “Those challenges are upon us — in the here and now.”
He added: “BALTOPS 22 highlights our past investments and shows our collective partnership and capabilities as we recognize the importance of ‘freedom of the seas’ and the vital role the Baltic plays in European prosperity.”
Putin issued a stark warning on Sunday that the military would strike new targets if the West continued to supply Ukraine with long-range missiles. Speaking on Russian-state TV, Rossiya-1, the Kremlin leader said: “We will strike at those targets which we have not yet been hitting.” However, Putin did not specify what those targets were.
The Ukrainian military is expected to receive more weapons from both Spain and Britain. On Sunday, the Madrid-based newspaper El Pais reported that government sources in Spain said that Leopard battle tanks and antiaircraft missiles would be sent to Ukraine in a bid to step up Spain’s military support to the country. Meanwhile, the U.K. is expected to donate several M270 multiple launch rocket systems — which can strike targets up to 50 miles away.
Despite Putin’s warning, the U.K.’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, argued that the assistance is justified. “As Russia’s tactics change, so must our support to Ukraine,” he said. “If the international community continues its support, I believe Ukraine can win.”
Zelensky visits frontline
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited soldiers on the frontlines in the east of Ukraine on Sunday. He met troops in the Donbas region and met with fighters in Lysychansk, which is situated across from Severodonetsk — where Ukrainians are fighting back against Russian forces.
“I want to thank you for your great work, for your service, for protecting all of us, our state,” Zelensky told soldiers. “I am grateful to everyone. Take care of yourselves!”