US sends aircraft carrier group to Mediterranean as Russia threat looms
The U.S. military has sent the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier strike group to take part in a NATO naval exercise in the Mediterranean amid tensions between the West and Russia, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson announced Friday.
Neptune Strike 22 exercises, which are set to begin Monday and run through Feb. 4, will “demonstrate NATO’s ability to integrate the high-end maritime strike capabilities of an aircraft carrier strike group to support the deterrence and defense of the alliance,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters.
He added that the strike group, along with several other NATO allies he did not name, “will participate in coordinated maritime maneuvers, anti-submarine warfare training, and long-range strike training.”
Kirby insisted the war games had been “long-planned,” since 2020, and were not in response to the recent Russian military buildup near the Ukrainian border, though the drills are not listed on NATO’s website among exercises slated for this year.
Shortly after the DOD announcement, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg added to speculation as to the timing of the maneuver when he tweeted that “NATO will always do what is necessary to protect and defend all Allies.”
He added that the participation of the U.S. vessel in Neptune Strike 22 displays “a strong sign of transatlantic unity.”
NATO forces and weapons in recent days have moved to areas near Ukraine as Russia has refused move back the roughly 100,000 troops amassed near its border with Ukraine. The movements also come amid warnings from the west that Moscow may soon invade the former Soviet nation.
Spain has sent warships to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and is mulling sending fighter jets to Bulgaria, while Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic Sea and France has offered to send troops to Romania.
The U.S. is also allowing three NATO allies — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — to send American-made weapons “from their inventories for use by Ukraine.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken — who met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday in Geneva in a high-stakes meeting to quell tensions — said he wants to use diplomacy to de-escalate the situation. If that proves impossible, however, and Russia decides to pursue aggression against Ukraine, it will be met with “a united, swift and severe response.”
Asked whether the scope or location of the Neptune Strike 22 exercises had been altered in any way due to the tension around Ukraine, Kirby directed questions to NATO.
“If this scenario has changed over time, I don’t have that level of detail, but I would tell you … the exercise itself is not designed against the kinds of scenarios that might happen with respect to Ukraine,” Kirby said.
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