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NATO has gone into high gear as the war in Ukraine continues

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As the war in Ukraine drags on, NATO has gone into high gear, taking in new members and stepping up training to increase readiness. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley attended maneuvers this month in a newly formed battle group on NATO's eastern flank, in Romania.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTILLERY FIRING)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Artillery salvos pierce a peaceful summer morning along the Danube River and kick off three days of NATO exercises in a country that borders Ukraine. Eight thousand soldiers from 13 countries participate. The scenario involves moving troops and equipment across the deep, swift river.

Donald Hamrick is with the 1st Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment at Fort Riley, Kan. He points to row upon row of armored personnel carriers and light tanks.

DONALD HAMRICK: It has to be sequenced. So right now, as you see how we're staged, we have North Macedonians. We have the French. We have the Americans. So it's very complex - a lot of communication. So that's why we do these rehearsals.

BEARDSLEY: The working language here is English. Should problems arise, soldiers are also equipped with pocket translators.

A Romanian battalion has built a 250-meter pontoon bridge hefty enough to hold 60-ton tanks. Hamrick says they'll be taking a Bradley fighting vehicle across this type of water for the first time.

HAMRICK: So now we all know how to do that. So it's all nations working together just in case we are somewhere where there is an adversary - that we are ready to do this, and it won't be the first time we've done it.

(SOUNDBITE OF F-16 FLYING OVERHEAD)

BEARDSLEY: F-16s fly overhead. Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the threat of NATO aggression as a main reason for invading Ukraine. Ironically, Putin's war has reinvigorated a defense alliance French President Emmanuel Macron once described as braindead. After the Kremlin's full-scale invasion in February 2022, NATO created four new multinational battalion battle groups in member countries bordering Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO STATIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Nine-Bravo. Nine-Bravo. VGC-1 (ph) radio check. Over.

BEARDSLEY: Everyone takes these games seriously. The motto is - train like you fight. While NATO nations are giving weapons to Ukraine, there are no NATO soldiers on the ground. But if Russia were to attack a NATO country, the other members would be bound to help it. Romanian Brigadier General Nicolaescu Constantin says this is the idea of collective defense.

NICOLAESCU CONSTANTIN: Together, we are stronger. And to be able to work together, we need a certain level of interoperability and, the most important, trust amongst each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET BEING LAUNCHED)

BEARDSLEY: At another site along the Black Sea, HIMARS and other guided rockets are fired. Russian-occupied Crimea is only 180 miles off this coast. French Lieutenant Mathieu - the French military doesn't give last names - says the real war does give urgency to these maneuvers.

MATHIEU: Of course, everything is led by what we can see in Ukraine, so it takes some additional realism. It's also proving to who wants to see it that we are ready to fight - not only as different countries, but we are ready to fight all together.

BEARDSLEY: History shows you have to be prepared, says Robert Moore with the 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment in Germany.

ROBERT MOORE: Those guys who stormed the beaches of Normandy - that took a lot of training. It just didn't happen because they decided one day we're going to go jump on a beach. It shows that we got to train to be ready.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER FLYING OVERHEAD)

BEARDSLEY: Captain Octave Houdegbe flies Blackhawk helicopters with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Stewart, Ga. He says the camaraderie here is great, and the sense of morale in the U.S. Army has never been stronger.

OCTAVE HOUDEGBE: Being here in Romania, here in Europe, reminds us all that we are one team, one fight, and we are one strong NATO Europe together.

BEARDSLEY: This week in Germany, NATO is holding the largest air forces deployment exercises in its history - 10,000 participants from 25 nations in a massive demonstration of transatlantic solidarity.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, in eastern Romania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.