BRUSSELS – [RAW] NATO has agreed to its boldest steps yet to deter Russia from any attack in the Baltics or eastern Europe, setting out ways to rapidly deploy air, naval and ground forces without resorting to Cold War-era military bases.
In an effort to dissuade Moscow after its 2014 annexation of Crimea, NATO defence ministers decided to rely on a network of new alliance outposts, forces on rotation, warehoused equipment and regular war games, all backed by a rapid-reaction force.
‘Russia is a threat,’ Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas told Reuters on Wednesday at an alliance meeting in Brussels.
‘It is Moscow’s actions in Crimea, their support for separatists in Ukraine and their snap exercises that concern us’.
The measures, which British Defence Minister Michael Fallon said proved that ‘NATO means what it says’, showed a unity the West has not been able to muster against Russia in Syria, where the United States faces criticism for not stopping the Russian-backed assaults on rebel-held areas of Aleppo.
Russia denies it has acted aggressively and blames the West for stirring anti-Russian feeling across the east.
The crisis in Ukraine, where the West accuses Russia of fomenting a separatist rebellion, and the Western economic sanctions on Moscow have raised concerns about a new Cold War.
Initial discussions suggest NATO could have a brigade of up to 1,000 troops in each of the six former communist countries, once under Moscow’s domination, that the alliance is looking to reinforce: Lithuanian, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.
They will be backed by a rapid-reaction force that includes air, naval and special operations units of up to 40,000 personnel.
Asked about whether a 1,000-troop presence was acceptable, Poland’s defence minister Antoni Macierewicz said: ‘From our point of view it is clearly too little.’
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said the plan aimed to move NATO to a ‘full deterrence posture’ to thwart any aggression but cautioned: ‘It’s not going to look like it did back in Cold War days.’