The drill has been planned for a long time, but comes at a time when tensions with Russia are soaring, with this only adding to the strain. NATO has called the military operation Hedgehog, with the drill simulating an attack from Russia on Estonia. Around 15,000 troops from 10 different countries, including Finland, Sweden, and Ukraine, will participate in the exercise that is taking place just 40 miles from Russia’s nearest military base.
Last night, Russian state media threatened to deploy nuclear weapons to the region following Finland and Sweden’s pledge to join the alliance, with the countries stating Putin’s attack on Ukraine as their reason for doing so.
Tensions in the Baltics have ramped up significantly since this decision, with operation Hedgehog causing further concern for Russia.
The military operation, also dubbed Siil, is one of the largest exercises to take place out of the country since 1991, supported by the additional 900 British troops deployed to Tallin in February before the Russia-Ukraine war broke out on February 24.
NATO has stressed that this exercise was pre-planned in an attempt to keep tensions with Russia down.
But, the Ukraine invasion has left the military alliance rethinking its strategy, with Finland and Sweden now favouring membership as the best way to guarantee their safety.
The two countries initially had decade long agreements that barred them from joining military alliances in return for guarantees that Moscow would not attack them.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenburg said the pair will be welcomed “with open arms”.
Despite their pledge, joining the alliance could take months as they go through the official ratification process involving the current 30 member states.
To see them through this time, the two countries have struck defence agreements with the US and UK to protect them if Russia does decide to attack.
Though not confirmed, it is thought Finland and Sweden had pre-planned their involvement in exercise Hedgehog as they were taking part in NATO drills before the agreement.
The drill is designed to test how a multi-nation force would respond to a sudden attack by Russia, with a “small number” of troops present from Georgia which was invaded in 2008 by Kremlin forces.
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The deputy commander of the Estonian Defence Forces – Major General Veiko-Vello Palm – told Newsweek last week that Russia has not been invited to observe.
He said: “We have notified the international community of the exercise, but we would not have allowed Russian observers.”
Finland said on Sunday, May 15, that they plan to formally apply for NATO membership in the coming days, with their neighbour Sweden following suit.
Sweden has had two centuries of military non-alignment, with their decision to join NATO delivering a blow to Vladimir Putin.
Sweden’s Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson, said: “Europe, Sweden and the Swedish public are living a new and dangerous reality. The European security order that Sweden builds its security on is under attack. We Social Democrats think that the best thing for Sweden’s security is that we join NATO.”
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The Russian invasion of Ukraine, a non-NATO member, in February led to many bordering countries fearing for their security, leading to them looking into further security measures.
Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said: “We cannot trust anymore that there will be a peaceful future next to Russia on our own. That’s why we’re making the decision to join NATO. It’s an act of peace, to make sure there will never be a war in Finland in the future.”
In the application process, Sweden’s Social Democrats are expected to express reservations against the deployment of nuclear weapons on their soil, but Finland is not planning on imposing any conditions.
Finland and Sweden joining NATO would be one of the most shocking consequences of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, delivering a huge blow to Putin.