US and NATO forces plan to hold large-scale military exercises starting next week, as a Pentagon spokesman said officials see “no signs of de-escalation” from Russia.
The naval exercises, dubbed Neptune Strike 22, will take place in the Mediterranean Sea and will last until February 4. The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman will join the exercises, which include integrated NATO defense and anti-submarine operations.
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Officials began planning the exercises in 2020, and rising tensions with Russia over a possible invasion of Ukraine will not deter years of planning.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday that the exercise will demonstrate the “deterrence and defense of the alliance.”
Kirby responded to questions about Russia’s potential to invade Ukraine by emphasizing Russia’s “isolation” in contrast to NATO’s cooperative nature.
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“This is not a country that has many friends,” Kirby said. “This is not a country that has allies and partners that can lean on the way we do it and the way the West does it.”
The Pentagon sees a “very significant troop presence” in the region and remains “concerning” as Russia shows no signs of withdrawing its troops.
“Quite the opposite,” Kirby added. “I think they continue to increase the presence there.”
“And we remain concerned about it.”
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Kirby also noted that the Pentagon will continue to explore “capability options” if NATO allies need any assurance, “particularly on NATO’s eastern flank.”
“If there’s another incursion and they need reassurance that they need the skills to be empowered, we’re going to do that and make sure we’re ready for that,” Kirby explained.
And a senior US defense official told Fox News the options include sending more US troops to bolster Eastern European allies or sending more defensive weapons to the region.
“All of these options are on the table, I’m told, and may be announced in the coming days,” the official said, but clarified that the Pentagon is not actively considering sending U.S. forces to Ukraine.
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The Pentagon will remain vigilant this weekend whatever Putin does.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.