Thursday 12 May 2022 05:44 PM British and US troops join thousands of NATO soldiers for war games in message ... trends now
The Swift Response 22 exercises in North Macedonia involve 4,500 troops from the US, Britain, France, Italy and other allied nations and are taking place against the backdrop of Russian aggression against perceived Western expansion.
There are similar military drills being held across five locations in Europe this month, to show Finland what they will soon be joining.
Swift Response involves parachute drops, helicopter-borne air assaults and sees French paratroopers and an Italian working to a British chain of command.
Exercise Hedgehog is also taking place on the Estonia-Latvia border this month featuring 18,000 NATO troops in the biggest military exercise in Estonia which takes place every four years.
Today, Finland announced it intends to start the formal application process to join the military pact, more than doubling NATO's presence on Russia's borders from 754 miles to 1,584 miles.
The decision is a spectacular backfire for Putin who invaded Ukraine in part through fears of Volodymyr Zelensky joining the US-led alliance.
Over the past 10 days, soldiers from Albania, France, Greece, Italy, North Macedonia, Montenegro, the UK and the US have taken part in the exercises in North Macedonia, which have included parachute jumps at several locations around the country.
NATO has put on a show of strength in Europe in a message to Vladimir Putin as 10,000 soldiers from 19 nations take part in war games across the continent
Italian paratroopers parachute after jumping from C-130 aircraft in today's NATO drills
British soldiers participate in an exercise as NATO allied troops carry out Swift Response 22 exercises during a media open day at Krivolak army base, North Macedonia
A British Chinook helicopter transports a howitzer and a truck during the Swift Response 22 military exercise
Soldiers take part in the NATO military exercise 'Flaming Sword 2022' at a training range near the village Maisiejunai
NATO forces' U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters fly by during the NATO exercise 'Swift Respone 22' at the Krivolak Army Training Area, near Negotino
Recent exercises involved around soldiers from North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Greece, Italy, as well as France, the UK and the US
British soldiers prepare for Swift Response 22 exercises carried out by NATO allied troops
North Macedonia formally joined NATO in March 2020. The small Balkan country of 1.8million people has an active military of about 8,000 personnel.
'I think it's a fantastic demonstration of what we can do as an alliance and our ability to project combat power if asked to do so and how quickly we can do it,' Maj. Gen. Peter B. Andrysiak, U.S. Army Deputy Commanding General for Europe and Africa, told reporters after an hourlong display in North Macedonia.
The purpose of the exercises is to showcase the ability for large ground combat operations for member states and allies.
Earlier, Russian state TV accused the US of erecting a 'new iron curtain' in Europe in a furious response to Finland announcing its intention to join NATO.
The 'Swift Response 22' exercises involve forces from the US, Britain, France, Italy and other allied nations and are taking place against the backdrop of Russian aggression against perceived Western expansion
NATO exercise 'Swift Response 22' is part of the exercise 'DEFENDER EUROPE 22' at the Krivolak Army Training Area
British soldiers attend the NATO exercise 'Swift Response 22' at the Krivolak Army Training Area, near Negotino
Spain's F-18 jet fighter takes part in the NATO military exercise 'Flaming Sword 2022' at a training range near the village of Maisiejunai
Today, Finland announced it intends to start the formal application process to join the military pact, more than doubling NATO's presence on Russia's borders from 754 miles to 1,584 miles
British communications officers in North Macedonia take part in the NATO drills as a show of strength for the military alliance
Italian paratroopers jump from a C-130 aircraft as NATO allied troops carry out Swift Response 22 exercises
The exercises demonstrate the NATO states' ability to deploy anywhere around the world and that its soldiers can operate together professionally and successfully
US Black Hawk helicopters take part in the Swift Response 22 military exercise at the Krivolak Military Training Center
This morning, president Sauli Niinisto and prime minister Sanna Marin said they want to join the security alliance 'without delay', with Sweden set to follow suit within days, drastically ramping up tensions between Russia and the West.
The Kremlin had previously threatened it would secure 'the entire destruction' of the country and 'the most undesirable consequences', and today said it would 'be forced to take retaliatory steps', both 'military-technical and other'.
A Number 10 spokesman said the UK is 'fully committed to NATO's open door policy' and said the only threatening behaviour in Europe has been Russia's invasion.
When asked what he would say to Russia, Niinisto replied: 'You caused this. Look in the mirror.'
After the announcement, Russian state TV's Olga Skabeyeva said: 'The main beneficiary here is America and Biden. And the main aim is a new iron curtain from the Barents to the Black Sea.'
To show Finland what they will be joining, forces are holding the military drills in five locations across Europe
NATO enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup tanks and infantry fighting vehicles fire during Iron Spear exercises in Latvia yesterday
Spanish servicemen take part in NATO military exercises during the Iron Spear 2022 drills in Latvia yesterday
Spanish troops of NATO enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup pose for a picture during Iron Spear 2022 military exercise in Adazi military field
Meanwhile Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move was 'definitely' a threat to Russia and warned it would make Europe more unstable.
He said Finland had made 'unfriendly steps' against Russia and it was a cause for regret and a reason to impose a symmetrical response.
Asked whether this presented a threat to Russia, Peskov said: 'Definitely. NATO expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure.'
Sweden is expected to follow Finland with its own bid which could come as soon as next week, with a parliament debate on Monday followed by a special cabinet meeting where the formal decision to apply will be taken, Daily Expressen said.
The major policy shift was announced today in a joint statement by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin (pictured) today
President Sauli Niinisto and prime minister Sanna Marin released the anticipated statement this morning
Russian state TV has accused the US of erecting a 'new iron curtain' in Europe in response to the decision
Finland, which shares an 830-mile border and a difficult past with Russia, has previously remained outside NATO
Sauli Niinisto (pictured during a meeting with Boris Johnson yesterday) believes the move would strengthen Finland's security
A special committee will announce Finland's decision on a membership bid on Sunday although it could take until October before the country is formally admitted to the pact.
The major policy shift which completely rewrites Europe's post WWII alignment comes a day after Boris Johnson signed security pacts with Helsinki and Stockholm pledging Britain would come to their aid if they come under Russian attack.
In their statement today, Niinisto and Marin said: 'Now that the moment of decision-making is near, we state our equal views, also for information to the parliamentary groups and parties.
'NATO membership would strengthen Finland's security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance.
'Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay.
'We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.'
Finland, which shares an 830-mile border and a difficult past with Russia, has previously remained outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to maintain friendly relations with its eastern neighbour.
Earlier this morning, former prime minister Alexander Stubb said: 'I have been waiting for this day for 30 years.
'Announcement on Finnish NATO membership imminent.'
Sweden is expected to imminently follow Finland with an application to join the Western military pact.
The Nordic nations have been rattled by Moscow's war against its pro-Western neighbour, which has bolstered domestic support for joining the alliance - and the security that membership would provide.
After today's announcement, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the eventual membership process would be 'smooth and swift'.
'This is a sovereign decision by Finland, which NATO fully respects. Should Finland decide to apply, they would be warmly welcomed into NATO,' Stoltenberg said.
Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also said he will push for a quick admission process.
'Denmark will of course warmly welcome Finland to NATO. (It) will strengthen NATO and our common security,' Frederiksen said on Twitter. 'Denmark will do everything for a quick admission process after the formal application.'
Meanwhile Volodymyr Zelensky 'commended' Finland's readiness to apply to join the NATO alliance in a phone call with Niinisto.
'We also discussed Ukraine's European integration. And - defence interaction,' he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Johnson and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto both met the media at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on Wednesday
Both Finland and Sweden have been militarily non-aligned since WWII.
Sweden maintained its policy of neutrality - which had begun in the early 19th century - throughout the war wanting to avoid being drawn into a conflict that was engulfing the nearby powers of Germany and the Soviet Union.
Instead, Sweden profited from its neutrality by exporting iron ore to the Nazis and sharing military intelligence with the Allies and training their refugee soldiers.
Meanwhile Finland changed sides in the conflict, first being invaded by Joseph Stalin and assisting the Nazis, before fighting against Hitler's troops.
When NATO was formed in 1949 for a Western military alliance, Sweden decided not to join and continue its neutrality, introducing a security policy that secured its non-alignment in peace and neutrality in war.
In 1994, Stockholm decided to join the NATO programme Partnership for Peace (PfP), aimed to build trust between member states