Large contingent in the Baltic Sea: More than 3,200 soldiers from 14 countries have gathered off the coast of Latvia and Estonia. There are 30 ships, a submarine, around 20 aircraft and several land units. Actually, it’s nothing special. The Baltic Sea repeatedly becomes the scene of naval maneuvers; most recently at the beginning of June at the NATO exercise “Baltops”. Germany is leading the “Northern Coasts” maneuver from Rostock until the end of September. Since its founding in 2007 by the German Navy, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Latvia have tried to strengthen their cooperation in annual exercises.

But against the backdrop of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, things are different this year. France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada and the USA have also sent soldiers to the Baltic Sea. It is also the first time that Germany is leading a maneuver that takes place 1,000 kilometers away off the coast of other countries. It’s about emergencies, deterrence and alliance defense. And above all, a clear message to Russia.

For two weeks, the troops will train in the coastal waters and land and airspace of Estonia and Latvia. The first week is a “warm-up” period where crews can practice and refresh their skills. According to the Navy, this includes, among other things, mine clearance, maritime target shooting, submarine hunting, electronic warfare, cooperation with reconnaissance aircraft, landing operations and the protection of ports. In the second week, communication between ships, boats and aircraft will be improved.

Never before has a German-led maneuver been so large. The number of ships and aircraft that he will lead during the maneuver is almost as large as the entire German navy, said Fleet Admiral Stephan Haisch.

For the first time in the history of “Northern Coasts”, an alliance defense scenario will be rehearsed and all NATO allies will be involved. “The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has fundamentally changed the security situation in the Baltic Sea region (…). Exercises like this send a clear message that NATO is ready to defend every inch of the alliance’s territory,” said a NATO spokesman.

At a press conference before the large-scale exercise, the German naval chief Jan Christian Kaack spoke of a pointer to Moscow in order to send a “clear signal of vigilance” to the Russian partners.

According to Fleet Admiral Haisch, the situation on site is relaxed. Even after the attack on Ukraine and the increased NATO troop presence in the Baltic Sea and the Baltic States, the Russian Navy is behaving in the Baltic Sea as in previous years. “We don’t experience any provocation. People behave very cleanly in a nautical manner without getting too close. They greet each other in a friendly manner,” said Haisch. Nevertheless, the Navy is more attentive than before the war.

The Baltic Sea is considered a supply route for the neighboring countries. Russia is also part of it via the Kaliningrad enclave. Since the explosions on the Nord Stream pipelines, there has been great concern that other lines, for example for energy and telecommunications, could be affected – even if it has not yet been conclusively clarified who was behind the attacks.

In the spring, however, the Tagesschau reported on a Russia strategy for the Baltics. Accordingly, Russia wants to expand its influence there through new cooperation with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. At the same time, Moscow wants to push back NATO influence and prevent the military alliance from establishing further bases in the region. Observers and politicians in the region consider the document to be authentic. However, the paper is from the summer of 2021. The Ukraine war has brought the Baltic states closer to the West than Russia would have liked.

It is still not clear who was behind the explosions on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 Baltic Sea pipelines. Since then, however, it has become clear to governments and the military that the critical infrastructure needs to be better protected. Navy chief Kaack is convinced that if crimes could be attributed, perpetrators could be deterred. However, it is still unclear what consequences await attackers and opponents.

The Federal Republic has proposed to NATO a maritime headquarters under German leadership. The letter from Inspector General Carsten Breuer is currently with the deputy of the NATO Supreme Commander for Europe. In peacetime, Germany could use this to lead larger naval units in the Baltic Sea – as is now the case with the large-scale “Northern Coasts” maneuver.

Marine inspector Kaack advocates using artificial intelligence to detect abnormalities in shipping traffic more quickly. In addition, cooperation between authorities would have to be regulated more precisely. “We should now determine who has to do what, in which case. We need to know today what do authorities do with their vehicles such as buoy layers, customs, the federal police, fisheries protection when there is a bang,” he told the German Press Agency. In addition, the military, authorities, research institutes and industry should be able to better share and exchange their findings.

Even if the Navy will not pass on secret data to the civilian sector, there must be a common situation picture. Kaack believes it is likely that the Maritime Security Center in Cuxhaven will collect open data from industry and institutes. Forces from various authorities, including the water police, customs, the German Navy, the Haverie Command and the Federal Police, have been pooled there to prosecute crimes at sea. Kaack believes that in the future all the data from various authorities could be pooled and analyzed there.

So far, the authorities have concentrated on possible incoming missiles from the east, says Kaack. But Russian plans to “break through the Atlantic with nuclear submarines and come from behind, either to America or to Europe,” explained the naval chief, are also important.

The war of aggression against Ukraine strengthened the Russian navy. Russia has recently made progress particularly in underwater navigation and communication. Unmanned and manned systems under or on water can be moved unnoticed using the electromagnetic spectrum.

However, the Russian armed forces are not superior in terms of their capabilities compared to NATO. Both are “on an equal footing”.

Sources: Bundeswehr1, Bundeswehr2, NATO, Maritime Security Center, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik,, with material from DPA