NATO minesweepers set off on Baltic deployment _lowres

Associated Press photo by Gero Breloer -- The warships of the standing NATO Mine Counter-Measures Group ONE with, from front to back, Estonian minehunter Admiral Cowen, Dutch minehunter Makkum, Norwegian minesweeper Otra and Belgian minehunter Belis set sail from Kiel, Germany, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. The group is one of NATO’s four standing Maritime Forces and deploys to the Baltic Sea to enhance maritime security and readiness in the region. The maritime Group was reactivated by a North Atlantic Council decision to enhance collective defense and assurance measures in response to the crisis in Ukraine.

KIEL, Germany — Five NATO mine-hunting ships have set off on a deployment in the Baltic Sea — part of the alliance’s efforts to strengthen its presence in Europe’s ex-communist east as members there worry about Russia’s intentions in Ukraine.

The ships — two from Norway and one each from the Netherlands, Belgium and Estonia — left the German port of Kiel Tuesday. The exercise, under Norwegian command, is to continue until the end of May, with the ships visiting several ports.

Commodore Arian Minderhoud, the NATO Allied Maritime Command’s deputy chief of staff for operations, says the exercise “is part of the whole package of ... actions to show NATO’s resolve, to show NATO’s preparedness.”

NATO said last week it was strengthening its military footprint along its eastern border.