Thousands of Russian paratroopers will participate in military training exercises Thursday in the Pskov Oblast in northwest Russia, a Russian Airborne Force spokesman said. The maneuvers will unfold just miles away from the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all NATO members that have expressed growing concern with Russia’s military activity in the region in recent months.
“The main phase of tactical exercises with personnel and combat hardware landing and live firing will be held on July 16-17 near Pskov. Over two days, about 2,000 airborne troops and more than 30 pieces of combat hardware will practice air-dropping from Ilyushin Il-76 planes,” Russian Airborne Force spokesman Yevgeny Meshkov told Russian-owned news agency TASS.
The air-drop training will simulate a joint attack between paratroopers and Russian combat vehicles on an enemy’s rear flank. The soldiers will also practice at shooting ranges, Meshkov said.
The planned maneuvers will take place weeks after Russia’s prosecutor-general’s office announced plans to review the legality of the collapsing Soviet Union’s decision to recognize the Baltic States’ independence in 1990 and 1991, Reuters reported. The Kremlin downplayed the move, stating the prosecutor-general’s office was legally obligated to review anything that received a formal request. But representatives from the Baltic States condemned the review.
“The entire issue is legally absurd. It serves as yet another example of the resurgent imperialistic mood that unfortunately exists in Russia,” Estonia’s Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus told Reuters.
Russia’s military activity has drawn international scrutiny since early last year, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the annexation of Crimea. Since then, Western officials have repeatedly accused Russia of direct involvement in the eastern Ukraine conflict.
Both the United States and NATO have expressed support for the Baltic States and vowed to defend them from any aggression. The U.S. Pentagon sent hundreds of heavy combat vehicles, including tanks, to six Eastern European nations last month. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the reinforcements were meant to show America’s commitment to defending its NATO allies in the region.