Written by By Aleksandar Vucic, CNN
Over 50,000 military personnel have gathered at Russia’s vast Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad in a show of force amid growing tensions between Moscow and the West.
The exercise, which runs until Sunday, is a firm response to the “unbearable situation” affecting Europe, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
“[It is] not a military confrontation, but rather a response to the unbearable situation which Europe is going through, the conflict in Ukraine, and the flow of refugees and human trafficking,” TASS quoted military spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying.
Konashenkov said up to 50,000 Russian troops were involved, as well as 10,000 Ukrainian, Polish, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian soldiers, with some tanks, vehicles and other hardware coming from as far away as Canada, Venezuela and North Korea.
Karen Stabiner was able to get her hands on the footbooks of some of the Ukrainian troops, and captured them on film:
The mass of vehicles was seen crossing the Ukrainian border into Russia during the exercise. Courtesy Karen Stabiner
Ukrainian troops from this five-member unit were brought over from Ukraine’s Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk provinces to form part of the alliance. Courtesy Karen Stabiner
The exercise is taking place as the migrant crisis becomes increasingly visible in the European Union. A Polish brigade is competing with its Russian counterpart to be among the first to enter new EU migrant centers in Italy and Greece.
Soldiers from one of the army’s mechanized divisions to create the first battalion of the new Polish-run Emergency Response Brigade. Courtesy Karen Stabiner
Poland is taking part in the exercise to bring in experienced soldiers who are suitable for this new role. Courtesy Karen Stabiner
‘March of solidarity’
Thousands of vehicles trundled down highways lined with troops and artillery during the exercise. Buses, lorries and military vehicles appeared to be driving around in a convoy to simulate a large-scale attack. The exercise was organized by the two Baltic states’ armies and three Russian units.
“I want to express my pride and gratitude towards the preparedness of the Polish forces as well as our Russian partners during this test in cooperation with NATO allies,” Finnish Defense Minister Patrik Jaksa said at a press conference, according to The Local.
A Ukrainian soldier holds up his book during an exercise in Eastern Europe. Courtesy Karen Stabiner
“What I think we are witnessing here in the Baltics is a manifestation of brotherhood and solidarity between the Baltic states, Poland and a number of other allies in our part of the world. And as I look around I see that Russian military presence has not changed in my lifetime,” he added.
A Slovenian soldier marches by a practice barracks during the exercise. Photo: KVETH BURLE/AFP/Getty Images
Operation Baltic Falcon saw 20,000 Russian and 11,000 NATO personnel participating, according to the Polish defense ministry. About 9,000 NATO personnel are operating in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as part of the NATO mission.
The Baltic nations recently voted to set up a joint border police command. The new force will only become effective with the additional forces and the planning of which has been made in close cooperation with the multinational European Union border control mission, ESTAF, it said.