Polish soldiers prepare for an official welcoming ceremony for troops from U.S., Britain, Romanian and other nationalities, part of a NATO mission to enhance Poland's defense, in Orzysz, northeastern Poland, April 13, 2017.
Polish soldiers prepare for an official welcoming ceremony for troops from U.S., Britain, Romanian and other nationalities, part of a NATO mission to enhance Poland's defense, in Orzysz, northeastern Poland, April 13, 2017.

VILNIUS - A major U.S.-led military exercise with 18,000 soldiers from 19 primarily NATO countries has kicked off in the alliance's eastern flank involving Poland and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.

The U.S. Army Europe said Sunday the Saber Strike 18 drill is spread around the region until June 15 as "a demonstration of the commitment and solidarity of the Alliance" at the time when Russia's military maneuvers are increasingly worrying nearby NATO members.
 
It stressed, however, that Saber Strike "is not a provocation of Russia.''
 
NATO has deployed some 6,000 troops in the Baltics and Poland.
 
Lithuania's Defense Ministry also announced the start of the country's largest-ever national drill, "Thunder Storm," with some 9,000 troops.
 
Non-NATO member Israel will be taking part in Saber Strike for the first time.