NATO takes command of US carrier strike group as allies send more jets and warships to deter Russia's threat against Ukraine

NATO takes command of US carrier strike group as allies send more jets and warships to deter Russia's threat against Ukraine
  • The USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group entered the Mediterranean sea last week amid growing tensions with Russia.

  • The exercise, known as Neptune Strike 22, has been in the works since 2020, the Pentagon said.

  • Russia has amassed nearly 100,000 troops at Ukraine's border.

As tensions with Russia threaten to boil over, the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group was sent to the Mediterranean as part of a NATO exercise, the Pentagon announced last week.

Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters the carrier group will "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."

The exercise is the first time NATO has commanded a full US carrier strike group since the Cold War, the alliance said in a news release, a sign of the alliance's heightening readiness in the wake of Russia's 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. The carrier Truman is accompanied by the US cruiser San Jacinto and the destroyers Bainbridge, Cole, Gravely and Jason Dunham.

Kirby said the demonstration was not a direct response to the most recent Russian aggressions at the Ukrainian border and had been in the works since 2020. The NATO exercise will last 12 days, starting January 24 and ending on February 4.

Russia has amassed nearly 100,000 troops in areas near Ukraine's borders, using their presence and live-fire exercises in an apparent attempt to intimidate their neighbor. Ukraine isn't a member of NATO, but the US has vowed to respond with harsh sanctions if Russian President Vladimir Putin launches another offensive, similar to his seizure by force of Crimea from the former Soviet republic.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia are the highest they've been in years, and the U.S. Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Russia "could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine." But Moscow denies it is gearing up to attack on the former Soviet state, arguing instead that NATO are aggressors on Russia's Western flank.

A complete Russian takeover of Ukraine would bring its border right up against NATO allied countries like Poland and Romania, creating a flashpoint between the two nuclear-armed sides.

Kirby declined to say why exactly NATO continued with the exercise while hostility with Russia continue to rise.

"We constantly look at exercises and training and ask ourselves … do we really need to do it now? Should we speed it up? Should we shorten it?" he said. "There was due consideration given about 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."

Other NATO allies — including Denmark, Lithuania, Spain, France, and The Netherlands — are also deploying fighter jets and ships into Eastern Europe. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg lauded the allies for their contributions.

"NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the Alliance," he said. "We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defence."

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