06:25 GMT +316 June 2019
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    An U.S. Navy picture shows what appears to be a Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft flying over the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea in this picture taken April 12, 2016 and released April 13, 2016

    Annual NATO Baltic Drills to Kick Off on Sunday – US Navy

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    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) – Eighteen NATO nations will launch the annual Baltic Operations exercise (BALTOPS) on Sunday, with more than 50 ships, dozens of aircraft and more than 8,000 service members, the US Navy announced on Friday.

    “BALTOPS is the premier annual maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic region and one of the largest exercises in northern Europe, enhancing flexibility and interoperability among allied and partner nations”, the Navy said in a press release.

    READ MORE: NATO Pays 'Very Close Attention' to Activities of Russia, China in Europe

    The 9-21 June exercise with 18 NATO nations will include 50 surface ships, two submarines, 36 aircraft, and 8,600 personnel in a joint operational environment, the release said.

    Nations participating in BALTOPS 2019 include Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, according to the release.

    NATO-Russian relations have been complicated over the past years, as NATO has set a sustained course for the alliance’s expansion eastward.

    NATO has been explaining its enhanced activities n Europe, specifically near Russia's borders, by the need to counteract a security threat allegedly posed by Russia. Russia has maintained that NATO's fears are unfounded.

    Back in May, the alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag that NATO’s experts have adopted a new military strategy in relation to the Russian "threat".

    Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu accused NATO on Wednesday of boosting its military activity and threatening to use force, adding that the United States was strengthening its global military and economic pressure.

    READ MORE: S-400 Not Interoperable With NATO Systems, May Exploit F-35 Capabilities - NATO Commander

    The Russian authorities have repeatedly expressed concerns over NATO's activities on the borders with Russia, stressing that they posed real threats to Russia's security and violated the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which banned the deployment of significant fighting forces on the territories of new member states.

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    drills, NATO
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