US further ratchets up tensions with Russia, plans naval drills in the Mediterranean
The United States is further ratcheting up tensions with Russia, announced large-scale NATO naval exercises in the Mediterranean.
Russia will also stage its own sweeping set of naval maneuvers at the same time from the Pacific to the Atlantic involving all its fleets.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that the exercises will begin on Monday and with the participation of the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman.
"Neptune strike 22 is going to run through February 4 and it's designed to 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," said Kirby.
The US military spokesman said preparations for the exercise had begun in 2020 and claimed that it had nothing to do with fears that Russia could invade Ukraine.
But then Kirby acknowledged that tensions with Russia had urged the allies on to hold exercises.
"There was due consideration about -- given tensions right now -- about our exercise posture. And after all that consideration and discussion with our NATO allies, the decision was made to move ahead," he told reporters.
"Neptune Strike 2022" does not appear on the list of scheduled exercises for 2022 published by NATO on its website on December 14, according to AFP.
"The exercise itself is not designed against the kinds of scenarios that that might happen with respect to Ukraine," Kirby said.
"It really is a NATO maritime exercise to test... a wide range of maritime capabilities that we want to make sure we continue to improve."
On Thursday, Russia announced its own massive naval exercises, in which more than 140 warships and about 10,000 soldiers will participate in January and February. The maneuvers will take place in the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Pacific and the Mediterranean.
The US, its NATO allies, and Ukraine have accused Moscow of amassing troops near Ukraine's border for a possible invasion. Russia has said there is no such plan.
The United States has reportedly allowed three fellow-NATO member states in the Baltic region to send US-made missiles and other armaments to Ukraine.
The US State Department has approved shipments of US-made missiles and other weapons from NATO allies Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to Ukraine, Reuters cited three unnamed sources as saying on Wednesday.