Stoking tensions with Moscow, NATO is carrying out its largest war games yet this year that spread across the Atlantic Ocean and extend into Russia’s backyard in the Black Sea.
According to the NATO website, the Steadfast Defender exercises started on May 12th and will be held until June 22nd. The drills involve 20 ships, 60 aircraft, 500 vehicles, and over 9,000 personnel from 20 countries.
Among the ships involved is the HMS Queen Elizabeth, a British aircraft carrier that is on its maiden deployment. After drilling with NATO, the Queen Elizabeth and its strike group will head into the Pacific to send a message to China.
NATO-Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke with reporters while onboard the Queen Elizabeth off the coast of Portugal. “NATO is there to defend all our allies, and this exercise sends a message about our ability to transport a large number of troops, equipment across the Atlantic, across Europe and also to project maritime power,” he said.
It’s clear the “message” the military alliance intends to send is aimed at Russia. The massive exercises come after NATO took a strong stance in support of Ukraine during a tense stand-off between Moscow and Kyiv.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is pushing hard to get his country into NATO and is asking the US to back the effort. On Wednesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba decried what he said was a lack of progress towards a NATO membership.