Britain pushes against Russia in northern European summit

British PM Boris Johnson will host a summit with leaders from Nordic and Baltic countries. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will this week host a summit with leaders from Nordic countries and Russia's Baltic neighbours, as Norway hosts one of Nato's biggest military exercises since the Cold War.

About 30,000 troops, 200 aircraft and 50 vessels from 27 nations will take part in the Cold Response 2022 exercise, the largest exercise involving Nato troops this year. Kicking off on Monday (March 14), the manoeuvres will enable Western nations to hone their combat skills in Norway's cold climate, including in the Arctic, on the ground, at sea and in the skies.

The exercise will be held just a few hundred kilometres from the Russian border, and while it was planned long before Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, it now has added significance because of the war.

In a statement on Saturday (March 12), Downing Street said in parallel to the drills, Johnson would convene leaders from the Joint Expeditionary Force, a coalition of 10 states focused on security in northern Europe.

After dinner on Monday at his country retreat of Chequers, the prime minister will convene a summit in London of the JEF countries on Tuesday, it said.

"European security has been shaken by the attack of Russia on Ukraine, and alongside our partners, we will take action to ensure we emerge stronger and more united than before," Johnson said.

"Ensuring we are resilient to (Vladimir) Putin's threats needs to go beyond our military footing - together alongside our North and Baltic Sea partners we must ensure we are insulated from Russia's interference and impact on our energy supplies, economy and values."

The JEF, set up in 2012, is made up of Nato members Britain, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway, plus non-members Finland and Sweden.

The group has been staging its own UK-led military exercise in the Baltic Sea, to demonstrate JEF nations' "freedom of movement" in the strategic zone adjacent to Russia.

At this week's summit, the JEF leaders are expected to agree to an "enhanced programme" of exercises in the Arctic, North Atlantic and Baltic Sea, the Downing Street statement said.

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