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KIEL, Germany – Five NATO mine-hunting ships set off Tuesday 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 -- a minesweeper and a support ship from Norway and one mine-hunter each from the Netherlands, Belgium and Estonia -- left the German port of Kiel for an exercise that will continue under Norwegian command until the end of May. Germany will then take command of the deployment.
The ships will visit several Baltic ports and also participate in previously scheduled operations to dispose of ordinance from the two world wars.
Commodore Arian Minderhoud, the NATO Allied Maritime Command's deputy chief of staff for operations, said 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.
During a visit Tuesday to the Czech capital, Prague, Canada's foreign minister stressed his country's support for NATO's eastern members. "We will stand with you in the face of aggression," John Baird said after meeting his Czech counterpart.
Last week, Canada announced it would contribute six CF-18 jet fighters to a NATO air-policing mission to be based in Poland. Baird said in Prague: "we will be making other announcements of specific projects in the coming days."