NATO's biggest drill since the Cold War is a warning for Putin to stay away

In a dusty clearing in Lithuania, NATO is rolling out the big guns.

Leopard 2 tanks fire their rounds with a deafening thud, while Puma fighting vehicles add to the eerie chorus, accompanied by the buzz of helicopter blades.

The firepower on display is the crescendo of the alliance's biggest military training exercise since the Cold War, led by the Germans and taking place a few miles from the Lithuanian border with Belarus.

The aim is to show how NATO can defend Europe's eastern flank from invasion, offer reassurance to allies and a warning to President Putin.

"Today's exercise sends a clear message - a message of deterrence to Russia," said General Carsten Breuer, Germany's chief of defence.

About 90,000 troops from 32 member states have taken part in drills as part of the Steadfast Defender exercise over the past six months on land, sea and in the air.

And as Ukraine struggles on the real battlefield, the war games on the eastern flank have added significance.

This is NATO's front line if the war in Ukraine were to bubble over.

The Baltic states including Lithuania say Russia is their biggest threat to security. It's why Germany will permanently station 5,000 troops in the area in the next few years.

It's a welcome deterrent, according to Colonel Rimantas Jarmalavicius from the Lithuanian armed forces, who has fought the Russians before.

Last time, he was a student battling the Soviet Union for his country's independence.

"I remember perfectly the system that we lived in. I don't want those times to come back and I don't want my children to live in such a country as the Soviet Union," he said.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine also shocked Germany into action.

This is the first year since the 1990s that the European giant has met the NATO alliance target to spend 2% of its gross domestic product on defence.

Russian aggression has made defence a priority for the government, which announced a special €100bn (£85bn) fund shortly after the war broke out.

But years of underfunding mean now Germany is against the clock to make a military short of ammunition, weapons and troops fit for war.

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"We have five to eight years when the reconstitution of Russia forces is on a level that an attack against NATO territory might be possible," explains General Breuer.

"For me as military, five to eight years means I have to be ready in five years."

And on the training field, Germany was keen to show it could defend its neighbours with an impressive range of weapons.

This time they were just drills, but if any NATO members come under attack the message is clear and united: there will be no playing games.