Ukraine demands another small gain in the counterattack: live updates

Planning for the exercise began in 2018. But it comes as fighting escalates on NATO’s doorstep in Ukraine, where Kiev forces, backed by weapons from Western allies, launch an offensive to retake territory Russia has occupied since the invasion ordered by President Vladimir last year. Putin.

Officials participating in the NATO exercise, which includes 25 countries, said it sends a message about the alliance’s solidarity.

“I would be very surprised if no world leader noticed what this shows, in terms of the spirit of this alliance, which means the strength of this alliance,” Amy Guttmann, the US ambassador to Germany, told reporters last week. . “This includes Mr. Putin.”

The exercise, known as Air Defender, is led by the German government and brings together the largest number of aircraft from outside Germany on a training mission since NATO was founded in 1949. The United States has flown about 100 National Guard and Navy aircraft to Germany for the exercises.

The 12-day event kicked off with an airshow in Wunstorf, northern Germany, featuring cargo and tanker planes—giant planes that were essential in ferrying weapons and supplies into Ukraine. The pilots will perform other missions with fighter planes, the show horses in the sky, at five other bases across Germany.

The exercise comes just weeks after the United States reluctantly agreed to allow Ukrainian forces to train on and eventually acquire American-made F-16 fighter jets — not only for the current struggle against Russia but also as part of a longer-term one. deterrence strategy.

It was not “directed at anyone,” said Luftwaffe General Ingo Gerhartz, who oversees the Air Defender, and stressed that no attack scenarios would apply. “We are a defensive alliance, and therefore these exercises will be defensive in nature,” General Gerhartz told reporters in Berlin.

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But General Gerhartz said that when he proposed the exercise, in 2018, “my impetus at the time was the seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula, the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, by Mr. Putin four years ago. Since Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, Last year, the allies in the eastern wing of NATO, which are closest to Russia, demanded that the alliance reassure them of them in the event of aggression from Moscow.

Twenty-four NATO countries — including Finland, the alliance’s newest member — are taking part in the exercises, and Japan has joined as an observer. Last month, officials in Japan said NATO was considering opening a liaison office in the country amid growing concerns among Western countries about China’s support for Russia. Such an office would be the first for NATO in Asia.

Douglas Barry, a military aviation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank, said one of Air Defender’s goals is to test how planes from many states can communicate with each other.

Mr Barry said the cargo and fuel flight crews will be watched closely during the exercises because of the important role they play in conflicts, including in Ukraine. But he said the exercises are mostly part of a “signaling” campaign – to let Mr. Putin know what NATO can launch against Russia, if necessary.

Even if the exercise had been planned for years, Mr. Barry said, “I would be very surprised, shall we say, if the coalition wasn’t looking at this as part of its overall messaging strategy.”

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Military organizers have promised that the exercise will have little impact on civilian air traffic, as many sorties will take place over the North and Baltic seas.

“We expect minimal disruptions to the flow of civilian airlines,” Lieutenant General Michael A. Loh, who directs the US Air National Guard, said in Berlin last week.

However, a German air traffic control association warned in May that the exercises could lead to “enormous” disruptions.

Christopher F Schweetz Contributed reporting from Berlin.

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