KAUNAS AIRPORT, Lithuania (Reuters) - A military aircraft carrying Norwegian troop reinforcements landed in Lithuania on Sunday, part of a wider NATO buildup in the Baltic region following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Norwegian troops - 44 soldiers from a mechanised infantry battalion - will join the alliance's enhanced forward presence battlegroup in Lithuania, deployed since 2017 in response to Russia's takeover of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.
Norwegian enforcements also include four CV90 infantry fighting vehicles, three of which were transported by a separate plane, an Ukrainian-made Antonov An-124.
"In my company I have main battle tanks, I have new CV90s, highly technological, and a lot of other vehicles," said Captain Endre Saurstroe, commander of Norwegian troops in Lithuania.
Germany also increased number of its troops in Lithuania earlier in February.
The size of NATO battlegroups in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, once ruled from Moscow but now part of the European Union, are set to almost double from 3,400 troops at the start of the year to more than 6,000 in the near future.
Ukrainian forces battled Russian troops pushing into the city of Kharkiv on Sunday on the fourth day of an invasion that has shaken Europe's long-standing security architecture.
Norwegian Defence Minister Odd Roger Enoksen said Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible for the escalation.
"We take part in ensuring safety for the Lithuanians in this situation ... Putin's actions will hurt relations with Russia for a long time to come," Enoksen told Norwegian TV2.
Ignoring weeks of diplomacy and sanctions threats by Western nations seeking to avoid war, Putin has justified the invasion saying "neo-Nazis" rule Ukraine and threaten Russia's security - a charge Kyiv and Western governments reject.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas and Janis Laizans; Editing by Terje Solsvik, Nerijus Adomaitis and Raissa Kasolowsky)