The United States needs more than words to bolster its relationships with European allies as Russia seeks to undermine such alliances, says Air Force Maj. Gen. Kirk Smith, commander of Special Operations Command Europe.

That’s why military exercises like Combined Resolve XII, comprising 5,000 service members from 21 allied and partnered nations, are so critical, he said. The biannual U.S. Army Europe exercise, led by the 7th Army Training Command, aims to strengthen ally and partner readiness and interoperability. It got underway Aug. 11 at the Hohenfels Training Area in Germany, according to the Army, and concludes Aug. 27.

“As we look across Europe, we see that our adversaries are challenging national sovereignty, our alliances and partnerships, and the commitment of the United States to Europe,” Smith said during a press call Aug. 19, according to a transcript obtained by Army Times.

Specifically, Smith blamed Moscow for meddling with North Macedonia’s prospective future as a NATO member. Russia is adamantly opposed to the move.

Meanwhile, American and Macedonian officials have accused Russian-backed groups of dispersing social media posts and websites that encouraged Macedonians to burn their ballots for the September 2018 referendum, which was a preliminary step for the Republic of North Macedonia to become a NATO member. North Macedonia is now waiting for all NATO members to ratify North Macedonia’s membership.

“From a military perspective, the best way to counter these challenges is to demonstrate that our respective forces are ready, lethal and able to work together as a combined joint force,” Smith said. “What’s more, we need to make clear our relationships consist of more than just words, and we will continue to reinforce them at venues like this across Europe regularly every year.”

Brig. Gen. Metodi Hadji-Janev, the commander of the Republic of North Macedonia Special Operations Regiment, said during the press call that Combined Resolve “is a great value because it contributes to our interoperability, readiness and integration with NATO allies.”

Approximately 50 personnel from North Macedonia are participating in Combined Resolve exercises, according to Hadji-Janev.

Most of the U.S. forces participating in the exercises are from the Army’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and the Army’s 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, from Fort Riley in Kansas, according to the Army.

The Army’s 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, is also taking part. They are joined by troops from the United Kingdom, Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Kosovo, Poland, Ukraine and other nations.

Kirk, who noted that some allied and partnered nations have more capabilities than others, said the exercise highlights “how we can work with each other and play off of each other’s strengths.”

“No nation can face today’s challenges alone, and we’ve seen from recent conflicts we’re stronger as an alliance and as a coalition,” Kirk said.

“I’ve said before that what happens in places like Afghanistan doesn’t stay there,” Kirk said. “The relationships that we build from combat or peacekeeping operations stay with us. They deepen and increase trust and our ability to work together.”

Kirk has headed Special Operations Command Europe since June 2018. The command’s primary responsibilities include safeguarding NATO on U.S. European Command’s eastern flank, and countering terrorism on EUCOM’s southern flank.

Even with the culminating force-on-force part of the Combined Resolve exercise underway, the relationship between the U.S. and Russia has grown more contentious. The U.S. launched a new ground-based cruise missile from San Nicolas Island, California, on Sunday that met its target after more than 500 kilometers in flight. The missile would have been barred under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty from which the U.S. withdrew Aug. 2.

In response, Russia accused the U.S. of “escalating military tensions,” Reuters reports.