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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Russia exercise with Greece sets precedent

ATHENS — Russia has launched its first military exercise in Greece, regarded as the closest NATO member to Moscow.

Greece's military said the Russian Navy began an exercise in the Aegean Sea and within Greece. The military said the air and naval exercise, the first by Russia in the NATO ally, began on Jan. 3 and would end eight days later.

"The exercises will take place on Jan. 3 and 4 and on Jan. 8 and 10 southeast of the island of Rhodes, and on Jan. 11 south of Crete," the Greek General Staff said.

In a Jan. 3 statement, the Greek military said the Russian Navy's Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier would lead the exercise. The statement said the naval maneuvers would be conducted in international waters, but Russian combat aircraft would fly in Greek air space.

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This was the first time Greece has agreed to host a Russian exercise. Athens has been regarded as close to Moscow, which has sold air defense, armored vehicles and other military systems to Greece.

The Greek Defense Ministry said Russia has sent its Su-25 and Su-30 fighter-jets for the air maneuvers. The ministry said Russia also contributed the Ka-50-2 attack helicopter to the exercise.

Over the last year, the Russian military has expanded its presence to the Mediterranean Sea. The navy has been conducting maneuvers with such allies as Algeria, Libya and Syria.

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