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NATO, allies launch Arctic aerial drills

NATO members and partners have begun large-scale aerial drills in northern Europe. The exercises take place against the backdrop of terse language between the western allliance and Russia over Ukraine's conflict.

Several NATO members and their allies are taking part Monday in a massive cross-border aerial maneuver in northern Europe that has been described as "one of the largest of its kind," officials said.

NATO member Norway is leading the two-week drill, dubbed "Arctic Challenge," which involves more than 4,000 personnel and over 100 aircraft. Germany, Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States are also taking part in the exercises, alongside non-NATO allies Finland, Sweden and Switzerland.

"The aim is to exercise and train units in the orchestration and conduct of complex air operations, in close relations to NATO partners," Norwegian Brigadier General Jan Ove Rygg, who is leading the drill, said in a statement.

The exercises, which are being hosted at airbases in Norway, Finland and Sweden, will at their peak see nearly 90 aircraft airborne at the same time. Drill leader Carl-Johan Edstrom of Sweden said the goal of the exercise is to simulate the creation of a no-fly zone similar to the one created in 2011 over Libya.

Russia launches own maneuvers

Putin Armee Beobachter Manöver 2013

Both NATO and Russian forces were active on Monday

The drills are taking place amid heightened anxiety over a militarily resurgent Russia, whose actions in eastern Ukraine have sparked renewed concerns Moscow could seek to destabilize eastern Europe.

Russia launched large-scale military exercises of its own Monday, with about 250 aircraft and 12,000 servicemen participating in drills in central, western and southern Russia.

The drills are designed to prepare for attacks in the Ural mountains and Siberia, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

NATO has observed a spike in the number of intercepts of Russian aircraft over northern Europe in the past year. Sweden last week scrambled fighter jets to intercept two Russian aircraft flying near its airspace over the Baltic Sea.

In February British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon called Russian President Vlamidir Putin a "real and present danger" to the Baltic nations and warned "NATO has to be ready for any kind of aggression from Russia whatever form it takes."

bw/msh (AP, dpa, Interfax)

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