NATO kicked off a naval exercise Monday with an American carrier strike group along with forces from other NATO allies practicing coordinated maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea.
The exercise, called Neptune Strike '22, has been in the works since 2020 and is not designed to test any potential scenarios related to Ukraine, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that "this exercise will help demonstrate the unity, capability, and strength of the transatlantic alliance."
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced last week in a press release its own exercises across all areas of responsibility, including in the Mediterranean Sea. The exercises are scheduled to take place in January and February and are planned to involve more than 140 ships and supporting vessels, 60 aircraft, and about 10,000 military personnel.
The USS Harry Truman carrier strike group is under the command and control of NATO in the exercise which is scheduled to go until February 4. NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said this is the first time a U.S. aircraft carrier has come under NATO's command since the Cold War.
The exercise comes as the American and European officials continue to express concern of Russia's military buildup near the borders of Ukraine that is showing no signs of deescalating.
NATO announced on Monday it will send additional ships and fighter jets to NATO to allies in eastern Europe as a deterrent, with the potential to send more if Russia invades Ukraine.
"We have a U.S. aircraft carrier group under NATO command - that is not in the Baltic Sea - but of course it matters for the security of Europe, so we have stepped up," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday, as he listed other steps the alliance has taken recently.
"But this is defensive. NATO is not threatening Russia. It is proportionate," Stoltenberg said.
Kirby said Friday there were considerations over potentially calling off the exercise given tensions with Russia but ultimately, NATO decided to go ahead with the long-planned exercise.
Russia has amassed upwards of 100,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, and American officials have said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has the capacity to launch an invasion at any point — though they remain uncertain as to whether he's made the decision to do so.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told "Face the Nation" on Sunday that there will be "massive consequences" for Russia if its military forces invade Ukraine.
First published on January 24, 2022 / 1:08 PM
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