SHAPING FUTURE CONFLICTS:
Going toe-to-toe with Putin: British and US military put on show of strength 300 yards from Russian border
Nato forces put on a show of strength in Estonia, just yards from the Russian border, with troops, armoured personnel carriers and tanks forming a military parade.
Around 100 British, Dutch, Spanish, Latvian and Lithuanian troops yesterday marched in the snow in the city of Narva, alongside some 1,300 Estonian soldiers, to mark the independence of the formerly Soviet-ruled republic, now a member of the European Union and Nato.
Today Moscow responded by deploying thousands of soldiers on exercise just across Russia's borders with Estonia and Latvia. Russian President Vladimir Putin also lashed Ukraine's decision to cut off gas to its eastern regions, saying the move 'smacks of genocide'.
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Nato forces put on a show of strength in Estonia, just yards from the Russian border, with troops, armoured personnel carriers and tanks forming a military parade. Pictured are US soldiers in M1126 Stryker armoured fighting vehicles
A US armoured vehicle just yards away from the Russian border in Narva
The display was held amid heightened tensions between Nato and Russia over Ukraine. Pictured are soldiers from the Netherlands in light tanks
The worsening tension across eastern Europe came as the U.S. bluntly accused Russia of 'lies' and Cold War-style propaganda over its involvement in the bloody conflict in east Ukraine which has claimed thousands of lives.
Rhetoric was also hawkish in Estonia yesterday. 'History has taught us that if we do not defend ourselves, nobody else will,' General Riho Teras, Estonia's chief of staff, said at the parade.
'The events in Ukraine that have kept the entire world awake, demonstrate very clearly that we ourselves must maintain security,' he added.
Putin this week began supplying gas direct to areas of eastern Ukraine which are now controlled by pro-Moscow rebels who are, the West allege, propped up by the Russian army.
He lambasted Kiev for switching off gas to the region, notwithstanding Russian gas monopoly Gazprom's threat to cut Ukraine off entirely - a block which would affect Europe's pipeline supply.
He lambasted Kiev for switching off gas to the region, even though Gazprom has threatened to block supplies to Ukraine, which could then hit Europe's pipeline deliveries.
'It's not enough that there's famine there and the OSCE has reported a humanitarian catastrophe, but then to switch off gas supplies too,' said Putin.
'What do you call that? That already smacks of genocide.'
Estonian soldiers march in formation during a military parade on the occasion of Estonia's Independence Day, in Narva, Estonia - just 300 yards from the border with Russia
Soldiers of the Royal Dutch Armed Forces march in formation during the annual parade
Around 100 British, Dutch, Spanish, Latvian and Lithuanian troops marched in the snow in the city of Narva, alongside some 1,300 Estonian soldiers
The show of strength took place right on Putin's doorstep
Hot on the heels of Nato's part in Estonia's Independence Day parade in Narva, 2,000 Russian soldiers swooped on Pskov, the Russian region bordering the tiny Baltic state.
Some 500 units of equipment took part in the drills, which continue until Saturday with 1,500 paratroopers parachuting en masse to capture and destroy a fictional enemy's airfield.
Joining Nato's small international contingent in the Narva parade were two US Stryker armoured personnel carriers and a number of Dutch CV90 tanks. Nato has brought the equipment into the Baltics for a wave of exercises in response to Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and subsequent meddling in that country's east.
The annual parade has taken on particular importance this year in the context of jitters in the Baltic countries.
Holding the parade in Narva on the Russian border, where a majority of residents are ethnic Russian, was seen by commentators as sending a strong signal to Moscow about Nato's commitment to collective defence.
The annual parade has taken on particular importance this year in the context of jitters in the Baltic countries
US Secretary of State John Kerry angrily accused Moscow of lying to his face over Russian involvement in Ukraine.
'They have been persisting in their misrepresentations - lies - whatever you want to call them, about their activities there to my face, to the face of others, on many different occasions,' he told US lawmakers.
He said Russia was also engaging in 'a rather remarkable period of the most overt and extensive propaganda exercise that I've seen since the very height of the Cold War'
Putin said the gas supplies to Ukraine would be halted if it failed to pay.
Ukraine said it had stopped supplies to the country's east because of pipeline damage due to fighting.
'I don't know for sure whether the pipeline is damaged or not. What I do know is that about four million people live there,' said Putin.
An Estonian soldier (left) and a soldier of the Royal Dutch Armed Forces salute as they jointly stand in a military vehicle during the parade
Holding the parade in Narva on the Russian border, where a majority of residents are ethnic Russian, was seen by commentators as sending a strong signal to Moscow about Nato's committment to collective defence
Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (centre right) inspects soldiers during the parade
General Adrian Bradshaw, Nato's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said last week that Russia could try to seize territory from the alliance's states off the back of fighting in Ukraine.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon reportedly also told journalists last week that there was a 'real and present danger' to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
However, few ethnic-Russian Narva locals who came to the parade seemed to echo fears of a Russian intervention.
'In my opinion national security is blown up by the press, it's nothing serious, everything is okay, no one is going to attack anyone,' said 55-year-old Yuri Melnikov.
Elvira Neimann, 77, said she's been living in Narva since the end of the Second World War in 1945: 'I feel part of Estonia, not Russia.'
'We're all tolerant people, Russia is our friendly neighbour,' she told AFP.
Lithuania said Tuesday it would return to limited conscription later this year as concern mounts over Russian military exercises near Nato Baltic states.
The Soviet Union annexed the three small states during World War II. They won independence in 1991 and have had rocky ties with Moscow ever since.
LITHUANIA REINTRODUCES NATIONAL SERVICE AMID HEIGHTENED TENSIONS IN UKRAINE
Lithuania has decided to restore compulsory military service for young men as tensions in Ukraine continue to worry the small Baltic nation.
After a meeting of military leaders and top government officials, President Dalia Grybauskaite said Tuesday the measure was necessary because of 'growing aggression' in Ukraine.
Military officials said Lithuania will reinstate national service for five years starting in September, when it will enlist some 3,000 men, ages 19 to 27. They will serve for nine months.
General Jonas Vytautas, the defense chief, says a lack of soldiers posed a 'real threat' to national security.
Lithuania, like its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, was occupied for five decades by the Soviet Union before regaining independence in 1991. It abolished conscription in 2008, four years after joining Nato.
French aircraft carrier joins the fight against ISIS in Iraq as US airstrikes are revealed to have killed 1,600 people in five months
France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier has started military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq, a French army source said today.
The first Rafale fighter jet took off this morning from the French flagship as it sailed about 120 miles off the coast north of Bahrain in the direction of Iraq.
The warship’s deployment will halve the time it takes for the planes to reach Iraq for strikes against Isis from their base in the United Arab Emirates.
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Ready: France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier (pictured) has started military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq, a French army source said today
Military muscle: A flight technician sits under a French Navy Rafale fighter jet aboard the Charles de Gaulle as it sails through the Persian Gulf in preparation for its mission striking the militant group
High-tech weaponry: A flight technician sits in the cockpit of a French Navy Rafale jet
Death from above: A Super Etendard jet lands on the Charles de Gaulle as it sails north of Bahrain
'The carrier and its naval group has officially started missions as part of its Chammal operation in Iraq,' the source told journalists in a reference to the name of the mission.
A second source said the carrier would be engaged for several weeks in the Persian Gulf.
French President Francois Hollande announced the deployment of the Charles de Gaulle - named for the wartime French leader - days after the deadly terrorist attacks by Islamist radicals in Paris last month.
The carrier's warplanes began operations this morning, said Le Figaro newspaper, which is accompanying Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian ahead of an official announcement he is set to make on the carrier today.
The news came as it was claimed that U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS targets had resulted in the deaths of 1,600 people - the majority of them terrorists - in Syria and Iraq over the past five months.
France was the first country to join the coalition in airstrikes against ISIS insurgents in Iraq, who have also taken control of large parts of neighbouring Syria during the course of the civil war there.
The country has, however, ruled out striking the group in Syria.
Flagship: French Navy Rafale fighter jets and a HawkEye reconnaissance plane on the carrier flightdeck
Protection: Jets are reflected in the mirrored visor of a safety operator aboard the Charles de Gaulle
Weapons: Technicians load a bomb onto a Super Entendard jet in preparation for missions over Iraq
Politics: French Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian, right, tours the deck with Rear Admiral Eric Chaperon
Pomp: Mr Le Drian listens to the French national anthem as he arrives on the aircraft carrier
Ceremony: A French navy honour guard is assembled to welcome Mr Le Drian aboard their ship
The Charles de Gaulle arrived in the Persian Gulf on February 15, Stars And Stripes reported. It completed a port visit to Bahrain yesterday, which French officials told the military journal was to finalise 'operational details' with the U.S. 5th Fleet.
The 42,000-ton, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is accompanied by an attack submarine, several frigates, including a British anti-submarine frigate and a refueling ship. The Charles de Gaulle is carrying a dozen Rafale fighter-bombers and nine Super Étendard strike jets, according to Le Figaro.
They join a further nine fighter jets, a maritime patrol aircraft and a refuelling plane at France's base in the United Arab Emirates. It also operates six Mirage fighter jets from Jordan. With the Charles de Gaulle, there are now more than 3,000 French military personnel involved in the operation.
French aircraft this weekend struck targets in Sinjar, the region of northern Iraq where thousands of members of the Yazidi minority group have been under siege for months by ISIS militants. 'By late [Saturday] evening, a patrol took off on a planned air strike to destroy ISIL combat positions,' a spokesman for the ministry said. 'Around ten targets were destroyed by French fighter jets using AASM1 bombs.'
French Air Force jets made a total of 22 sorties over Iraq, the statement said.
Blast: News that France is engaging ISIS targets in Iraq comes as the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said U.S.-led airstrikes (pictured in the Syrian city of Kobane) had already killed 1,600 people
Militants: The flow of European fighters to ISIS-held territory is drying up due to tighter restrictions that prevent would-be jihadis from travelling, fighters from the group said
SIX FACE FRANCE'S TERROR TRAVEL BAN
France has barred six people from leaving the country because they wanted to join extremists in Syria.
It the first such travel ban under a new law aimed at keeping French radicals from gaining violent experience abroad.
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve says some 40 others will face travel bans in the coming weeks. He did not name the six.
The bans issued today are the first since a sweeping anti-terrorism law passed last year.
The government is especially worried since attacks in Paris last month killed 20 people, including three gunmen claiming ties to Islamic extremists in Syria and Yemen.
An Interior Ministry official says the passports and ID cards of the six have been declared invalid for six months, a measure that can be extended for up to two years.
News that France is engaging ISIS targets in Iraq comes as the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said U.S.-led airstrikes had already killed 1,600 people.
Almost of those killed are understood to have been aligned with ISIS or with rival Sunni terror group and Al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.
The monitor recorded a total of 62 civilian deaths as a result of the bombing campaign.
America and several Arab nations launched a bombing campaign against the militants in Syria last September.
The operation built campaign against the group in neighbouring Iraqi territory.
The flow of European fighters to ISIS-held territory is drying up due to tighter restrictions that prevent would-be jihadis from travelling, fighters from the group said.
Fighters in Syria and Iraq said the impact was limited on the battlefield since European fighters make up only a fraction of ISIS forces.
'Now most of the fighters are coming from Asian countries, like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. They are tough fighters,' an ISIS source said.