VILNIUS, Lithuania — 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.

Editor’s Note: In a story June 3 about a major U.S.-led military exercise in the Baltics, The Associated Press, relying on initial erroneous information from U.S. Army Europe, incorrectly reported that non-NATO member Israel is taking part. Israel isn’t participating in the “Saber Strike” exercise, and instead is taking part in another drill in the region.

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