A battery of the US-made Patriot ground-to-air missiles has been deployed in Lithuania as the NATO military alliance is readying for war games near the country’s border with Russia.
Lithuania’s Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that the missile system would be used in the upcoming NATO exercises, called Tobruq Legacy 2017.
The ministry hailed the deployment as a sign of “the firm engagement of the United States to ensure Lithuania’s security and its readiness to send strategic capability to the region.” Authorities said the Patriot system would return to the United States after the drills end on July 22.
NATO’s multi-national war games will involve troops from Britain, the US, Lithuania and Poland. That comes against the backdrop of increasing tensions between the NATO and Russia. Moscow has repeatedly accused Western governments, mainly the US, of using the military alliance to spark a new arms race in the Baltics and the Balkan region. The Russians say NATO’s eastward expansion toward Russia’s borders is a serious threat to Russia’s security.
The row between NATO and Russia escalated three years ago when deep political developments in Ukraine led to a full-fledged conflict east and south of the country. More than 10,000 have been killed in the war in Ukraine’s industrial east, where Russia is accused of supporting militants. Russia denies any involvement and blames the entire mess on the US and allies.
NATO’s war games in Lithuania come as Russia is planning to hold massive drills in September. The action will be held in Belarus and Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave which borders Lithuania and Poland and hosts nuclear-capable Iskander missiles since last year. Patriot system is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, low-flying cruise missiles and aircraft.