The Lithuanian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the land-training maneuvers, dubbed Iron Wolf 2017, began Monday and are set to last until June 23 in southern, central and eastern Lithuania.
The drills are meant to test the capabilities of the German-led Forward Presence (eFP) Battalion Battle Group, also including troops from Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway. Luxembourg will also join the group in July.
Lithuanian troops from the Iron Wolf Mechanized Infantry Brigade and the Zemaitija Brigade Motorized Infantry unit will supervise the exercise. The unit is tasked with planning and arranging defensive and offensive operations.
Lithuanian Land Forces commander Brig. Gen. Valdemaras Rupsys said at a news conference that the exercise will also be conducted in populated areas “in order to ensure the quality of the country’s defense readiness and our interoperability with allies.”
Troops from the United States, United Kingdom, Poland and Portugal are also participating in the drills.
Separately, nearly 1,500 British, Polish, American and Lithuanian troops will participate in exercises in the Suwalki Gap, a small patch of land between Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad from June 17-19.
“This operation is held for the first time. The main task of the drills is to get ready to receive allies in Lithuania. This is solely a tactical procedure: how [the allies] will cross the border through the territory controlled by our forces, how they will move on further into Lithuania,” Sputnik news agency quoted Brig. Gen. Rupsys as saying.
These drills are part of a broader NATO exercise, dubbed Saber Strike, which are being held in the Baltic states – Estonia, Lithuania and Lativa — as well as Poland.
According to the Lithuanian ministry, NATO’s so-called Enhanced Forward Presence force has been deployed to the three Baltic states and Poland to “deter aggression throughout Europe.”
NATO’s deployment to the Baltic states and Poland has been sharply criticized by Russia.
Moscow slams the US and its allies for gradually building up their military presence near its borders. Russia says NATO’s deployment near its borders poses a direct threat to the country’s national security.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly rapped NATO over what he termed as the military alliance’s constant attempts to drag Moscow into a military confrontation.
In response, Russia has beefed up its military capacity and deployed the S-400 air missile defense system together with nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad bordering Poland and Lithuania.