Following complaints from Russia that it was being cast as a mock NATO enemy, the United States and allies on Tuesday launched a long-planned military exercise in Europe involving more than 28,000 troops from 26 nations training across the continent. The exercise, Defender-Europe 21, commenced following opening ceremonies in Albania, and comes in the wake of Russian troop movements along the border with Ukraine.
Amid speculation last month that Russia aimed to invade or intimidate Ukraine, Moscow charged that the current NATO exercise was designed with a Russian enemy in mind.
The U.S. and its allies routinely conduct exercises "with a clear anti-Russian orientation," Russia's Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said in an April videoconference with other military leaders. Noting that Defender Europe 21 is is the largest NATO exercise in 30 years, Shoygo couched the training as a threat to Russia.
According to the Pentagon, Defender Europe is meant to build readiness within the NATO alliance.
"It's defensive in nature, focused on deterring aggression, while preparing our forces to respond to crisis and conduct large-scale combat operations if necessary," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said this week.
In a remark aimed at Moscow's long silence on why 100,000 Russian troops had been sent to the Ukraine border, Kirby highlighted the openness surrounding Defender Europe.
"We actually come to the podium and tell you about it," Kirby told reporters on Monday. "I told you how many troops. I told you how many nations. I talked about specifics in terms of what they're going to be exercising ... and we're not getting that out of Moscow, and we haven't. So that's a big difference right there."
The Pentagon began moving troops and equipment to Europe for the exercise in March, and in April moved prepositioned military stocks from Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The training will focus on defending the western Balkans and Black Sea regions, and also will rehearse defense operations elsewhere in Europe and Ukraine, according to the Pentagon. Events will include live fire training, medical exercises, and mock evacuations.
The exercise will take place while some Russian troops remain in the area.
"There's still quite a few, I mean there's still a lot of forces arrayed against, or aligned along the border with Ukraine and in occupied Crimea," Kirby said. "And it's still never been completely clear what the intentions were."
The Russian Ministry of Defense did not respond to questions from Just the News.
The bulk of the NATO exercise will take place during May, and will continue through the beginning of summer.
"This exercise goes through mid-June, and you're going to get sick of hearing me talk about European Defender from the podium because I'm going to continually talk about what we're doing," Kirby said. "It's called transparency. It's a wonderful thing."