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NATO to hold major naval drills in the Mediterranean Sea

The US said the drills, which had not been listed earlier as part of scheduled exercises, had nothing to do with fears that Russia could invade Ukraine. Russia is also set to hold maneuvers at the same time.

USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier has positioned itself in the Mediterranean Sea since December

USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier has positioned itself in the Mediterranean Sea since December

The United States and NATO partners will conduct a 12-day maritime exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, beginning Monday, US Department of Defense spokesperson John Kirby said on Friday.

The maritime exercise, called "Neptune Strike '22" will run through February 4 and is meant to demonstrate and test NATO's maritime capabilities, according to Kirby.

The US announced the decision to hold NATO naval drills, which will involve the participation of the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier, a day after Russia said it would demonstrate its own naval capabilities for two months, January and February, from the Pacific to the Atlantic Sea.

The USS Harry Truman aircraft and its carrier group have been at the Mediterranean Sea since the middle of December, when the US ordered the aircraft carrier to position itself in the Mediterranean instead of making its way to the Middle East.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the decision was to "reassure" Europeans amid tensions with Russia.

The announcement came just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in a bid to de-escalate tensions surrounding fears that Moscow might be preparing to invade Ukraine. 

Watch video 00:27

US: Russia is preparing pretext for Ukraine invasion

Pentagon maintains drills not directly aimed at Ukraine tensions

Kirby told reporters on Friday that tensions with Moscow had played a part in discussions about conducting the naval drills, but the NATO "exercise itself is not designed against the kinds of scenarios that might happen with respect to Ukraine."

Kirby also stressed that Neptune Strike '22 "really is a NATO maritime exercise to test... a wide range of maritime capabilities that we want to make sure we continue to improve."

But the maritime exercise does not appear on a list, published December 14, of the scheduled exercises for the year on the NATO website.

"There was due consideration about — given tensions right now — our exercise posture. And after all that consideration and discussion with our NATO allies, the decision was made to move ahead," Kirby said.

Russia announced its own maritime maneuvers in the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Pacific and the Mediterranean Sea, involving 140 warships and 10,000 servicemen, over the months of January and February.

Watch video 08:38

US and Russia hold crisis talks on Ukraine

rm/fb (AFP, AP)