OSLO • Norway is hosting Nato's biggest exercises since the end of the Cold War to remind Russia the alliance stands united, despite seeds of doubt planted by United States President Donald Trump.
About 50,000 soldiers, 10,000 vehicles, 65 ships and 250 aircraft from 31 countries are taking part in Trident Juncture 18, aimed at training the Atlantic Alliance to defend a member state after an aggression.
"In recent years, Europe's security environment has significantly deteriorated," said Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday. "Trident Juncture sends a clear message to our nations and to any potential adversary. Nato does not seek confrontation but we stand ready to defend all allies against any threat."
While the "potential adversary" has not been officially identified, Russia is on everybody's minds.
Russia has repeatedly flaunted its military strength in recent years. Its army has annexed Crimea, helped destabilise eastern Ukraine, beefed up its military capabilities in the Arctic and conducted its biggest-ever exercises in the Far East last month.
The Russian embassy in Oslo said it considered Trident Juncture as an "anti-Russian" exercise. "Such activity... comes across as provocative, even if you try to justify it as being of a purely defensive nature," it said.
For months, Moscow has been annoyed by the growing Western military presence in the region. The US and Britain have been increasing their deployments in Norway to accustom their troops to cold weather combat.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova, speaking earlier this month, condemned what she termed as Nato's "sabre-rattling" and vowed that Moscow would take "retaliatory measures".
She said:"The main Nato countries are increasing their military presence in the region. Such irresponsible actions are bound to lead to a destabilisation of the political situation in the North."
Tensions already flared last Saturday after Mr Trump announced he was abandoning a Cold War-era nuclear treaty, a move which Russia warned could cripple global security. Accusing Russia of developing a new missile, the SSC-8, Mr Trump threatened to increase the US nuclear weapons arsenal.
Despite concerns about Mr Trump's commitment to the alliance, the US military is contributing the biggest contingent to Trident Juncture, with more than 14,000 troops.
Mr Stoltenberg said: "We exercise in Norway but of course the lessons... from Trident Juncture are also relevant for other countries."
In addition to Nato's 29 member countries, Norway's neighbours Sweden and Finland will join the exercises, which started yesterday and will run till Nov 7.
Two Russian and two Belarus military observers have been invited to watch the manoeuvres.
Mr Stoltenberg said he hoped Russia would "avoid dangerous behaviour".