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21st Apr 2019

Nato doubles Russia-deterrent, considers nuclear drills

  • Nato says decisions due to Russian aggression. Russia says 'camouflage' for expansion (Photo: nato.int)

Nato is doubling the size of its Russia-deterrent force, opening new facilities in eastern Europe, and may resume Cold War-era nuclear arms drills, defence ministers said in Brussels on Thursday (8 October).

Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance's head, told press after the meeting: "This [deterrent] force will count up to 40,000 troops. That's twice as many troops as the current level".

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He said a "spearhead" portion of the force, which focuses on special operations, is ready to deploy anywhere on Nato territory "in as little as 48 hours".

He noted that it will use two new facilities, to be set up in Hungary and Slovakia, on top of "small" bases being created in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.

He also said the force, initially designed for eastern Europe, could be sent to Turkey if need be.

"We have seen increased turmoil, increased uncertainty, violence to the south of Nato borders in Turkey … we can be able to deploy forces [there] if needed".

The British Nato ambassador, Sir Adam Thomson, told media the alliance is also considering resumption of drills on how to "transition up the escalatory ladder" from conventional to nuclear warfare.

The UK's defence minister, Michael Fallon, noted: "We have to know how they fit together, nuclear and conventional".

Britain also announced that it's posting 100 soldiers to the Baltic States as part of Nato troop "rotations" on its eastern flank, and 25 specialists to Ukraine to help train its military.

Stoltenberg said the measures are due to "the aggressive actions of Russia which we have seen, for instance, in Ukraine, destabilising eastern Ukraine, annexing Crimea".

Thomson noted the nuclear rehearsals, which had been suspended after the Cold War, are due to Russia's mix of nuclear and conventional forces in its recent military exercises.

Caspian salvo

The Nato decisions also come amid Russia's bombing campaign in Syria, which saw Russian jets briefly enter Turkish airspace three times last week.

Ash Carter, the US defence chief, told press that Russia's salvo of cruise missiles, fired on Wednesday from the Caspian Sea, over Iran, into Syria, nearly hit a Nato drone.

"We have seen increasingly unprofessional activity on the part of Russian forces", he said.

"They have shot cruise missiles from a ship in the Caspian Sea without warning [Nato]. They have come within just a few miles of one of our unmanned aerial vehicles".

US officials briefed press that some of the missiles fell in Iran by mistake. But John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, when asked for an official comment, said: "I can't confirm it".

For their part, Russia and Iran denied the claim.

"All our cruise missiles hit their target", Igor Konashenkov, a Russian military spokesman, said. Iranian state media described the US claim as "psychological operations by the US against Moscow".

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, also said that Nato's increasing presence in eastern Europe will prompt "reciprocate steps in order to restore the necessary parity".

He added that the "alleged threat coming from Russia" is "the camouflage that Nato uses to cover up its plans to further expand toward our borders".

Same airspace

US secretary of state John Kerry also spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart on Thursday on creating new protocols to avoid an accidental clash in Syria, where US, French, and British jets are bombing Islamic State.

Douglas Lute, the US envoy to Nato, said on Wednesday: "What is especially troubling is Russian air activities which are taking place in the same airspace as the coalition air artillery. That is why military-to-military contact between Russia and the coalition is very important".

He said Russia has deployed a "battalion"-sized force of several hundred soldiers in Syria, including rocket artillery, tanks, air-defence systems, attack helicopters, and 10 naval vessels in the Mediterranean.

He said the deployment indicates Russia may launch a ground offensive against Syrian rebel and Islamist groups.

The US defence chief, Ash, added: "I suspect in the coming days Russia will suffer casualties in Syria".

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