Massive NATO exercise starts in Poland and the Baltics

Massive NATO exercise starts in Poland and the Baltics

(CNN) – A massive US-led military exercise involving 18,000 soldiers from 19 nations, primarily NATO members, kicked off along the alliance’s eastern border Sunday.

Saber Strike 18 will take place until June 15 in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

The annual exercise “is the premier venue to build readiness in an integrated and complex training environment” and “a clear demonstration of the commitment and solidarity of the Alliance,” said US Army Europe.

It comes amid heightened tensions with Moscow, which views any NATO military activities along its border negatively, maintaining that it increases “mutual distrust.”

“Saber Strike 18 is not a provocation of Russia but an exercise with our Allies,” US Army Europe said. “This is what normal deterrence business looks like.”

Relations between NATO and Moscow have grown increasingly tense in recent years. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing fighting between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine have caused growing unease among NATO members in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.