A citizen stops at the famous city sculpture "Three Smiths" which has been put on facial masks, in Helsinki, Finland, March 31, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhu Haochen)
Finland said Monday it was canceling a large-scale military exercise planned for 2021 involving 20,000 troops from 13 countries due to the conronavirus pandemic.
Finnish military chiefs had also invited NATO and EU observers for the Arctic Lock exercise.
"International exercises are important, but in this situation it is even more important to keep the coronavirus under control," Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen said.
Finland's Foreign and Security Policy Committee decided to replace it with a national exercise involving 15,000 troops.
Arctic Lock was to be the latest in a series of historically large drills in the region that reflect increasing tension between many Western states and Russia.
Three years ago, Sweden's Aurora-17 training exercise became the country's largest for over two decades.
A follow-up 2020 which would have involved 25,000 troops was also canceled due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile the US' Defender 2020 was designed to be the largest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Although the COVID-19 outbreak caused it to be scaled down, the training went ahead and prompted Russia to launch its own combat jet drills over the Baltic in response.
Finland will look into organizing a large-scale international exercise later in the decade, the defense ministry said.
Finland and neighboring Sweden are not NATO members but in recent years have increased their cooperation with the alliance.