NATO forces put tanks through their paces, as Ukraine pins its hopes on Western-supplied armor

Nic Robertson and Joseph Ataman in Tapa, Estonia

In the distance there are gunshots, a heavy blanket of snow muffling the sound, confusing the senses — how far away and which direction, impossible to know.

Inside their German-made Leopard 2 tanks, Danish soldiers wait to pounce on their prey, an “enemy” force hiding in a warren of trenches deep in the freezing Estonian forest.

Before they leap into action in this NATO military exercise, just 100 miles from the Russian border, French and Estonian infantry open up a ferocious fusillade of fake gunfire, duking it out for control of the trenches in almost hand-to-hand fighting.

Troops fall to the ground amid thunderous simulated artillery explosions, as exercise officials bellow who is dead, who is injured.

The annual NATO winter military exercise is intended to gel the multinational soldiers — this year comprising Estonian, French, British, Danish and US troops — into a singular fighting force able to take enemy territory even in the bone-chilling cold.

Amid the trees, the message for Russian President Vladimir Putin is clear: NATO’s high-tech forces are ready for action. There are lessons here for the Ukrainians, too, whose training on Leopard 2 tanks began Monday in Germany.

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