The US Navy's USS Mount Whitney has passed through the Danish strait Great Belt and sailed into the Baltic Sea, according to the AIS naval monitoring resource. A day earlier, it became known that Canada’s HMCS St. John’s had sailed into the region, the Russian website Gazeta.ru reports.
Both ships are expected to participate in the annual US-led NATO BALTOPS drills along with ships, aircraft and landing forces from over a dozen other nations in mid-June.
Earlier in May, Baltic Protector, a series of NATO maritime tactical exercises across Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea region and shore-landing drills, kicked off. The multinational war games will involve a total of 3,000 military personnel and 17 vessels from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
Baltic Protector is comprised of the UK’s Amphibious Task Group, including flagship HMS Albion, a helicopter support vessel, a frigate and a military ferry, as well as the Danish command ship HDMS Absalon, a Dutch amphibious ship and two Norwegian missile boats.
NATO has demonstrably beefed up its presence in the Baltic region in recent weeks, with France and the UK recently deploying more troops, tanks and helicopters to the Baltics as part of their rotating deployment and drills. In April, NATO launched its annual Spring Storm drills in Estonia, with 10,000 troops conducting ground and air-based exercises in the country over three weeks.
Moscow has repeatedly voiced concerns over the expansion of NATO's forward presence along Russia's borders in the Baltic countries, Poland, and Romania, pointing to the risks of accidental escalation and warning that it would monitor the alliance's military operations in the region.
In May, the Russian military tracked a US Air Force Boeing RC-135V spy plane as it flew near the maritime borders of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad along the Baltic Sea. The country’s military also conducted missile drills in the region, with a Baltic Fleet corvette firing off a pair of Uran anti-ship missiles at targets 30 km away.