Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

Nato battalions to defend Baltic states and Poland

  • Stoltenberg said battalions "will send a clear signal that Nato stands ready to defend any ally" (Photo: nato.int)

Each of the Baltic states and Poland will shortly host 1,000 or so Nato soldiers to deter Russian aggression, the Western alliance has said.

“We will agree to deploy by rotation four robust multinational battalions in the Baltic states and in Poland. This will send a clear signal that Nato stands ready to defend any ally”, Nato head Jens Stoltenberg told press in Brussels on Monday (13 June).

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  • Poland and Baltic states are urging Nato to also upgrade its "air-policing" mission (Photo: US Air Force)

He said the battalions are part of “a much bigger shift in our posture” in reaction to Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine.

“Before the illegal annexation of Crimea and before Russia began destabilising territories in eastern Ukraine, there was no one talking about a [Nato] military presence of this kind”, he said.

The bigger shift includes a rapid reaction force of 40,000 troops and warehouses of “pre-positioned” US tanks in the region.

Nato defence ministers will firm up the plans this week ahead of a Nato summit in Poland in July.

The Finnish and Swedish defence ministers will join the Nato meeting for the second time in a row.

The two countries’ leaders might also attend the Nato summit, amid wider concern on Russia in non-Nato Nordic states.

Battalions

A Nato official told EUobserver: “Specific details of these four battalions, including size, scope and composition are still being discussed. They will be finalised in time for the Nato Warsaw summit”.

The battalions will be under Nato’s central command.

Each one will also be led on the ground by a Nato state. Germany, the UK and the US have agreed to lead one each, while Canada might lead the fourth, the Reuters news agency reported on Monday.

It said the battalions would be deployed in September.

Poland and the Baltic states are also urging Nato to upgrade its “air-policing” mission in the region to a fully fledged air defence system, Reuters said.

Juozas Olekas, Lithuania’s defence minister, told the news agency that if Nato did not agree then the Baltic states and Poland would create one on their own.

“We are discussing creating a regional medium-range air defence system together with the Latvians, the Estonians and the Poles”, he said.

Nato-Russia Council

Nato’s Stoltenberg on Monday underlined that Nato “does not want a confrontation” with Russia.

He said he was “looking into” convening a meeting of the Nato-Russia Council, a meeting at ambassadors' level, prior to the Warsaw summit in order to “keep channels of political dialogue open”.

The last Nato-Russia Council, in April, ended in what Stoltenberg at the time called “profound and persistent disagreements”.

The Nato chief on Monday also said the Western alliance would “project stability” in Russia’s neighbourhood by increasing military support to Georgia and Ukraine.

He said Russia was still supplying its hybrid forces in Ukraine and that he was “seriously concerned” about “continued violations of the ceasefire”, for which he said Russia bears “special responsibility”.

Stoltenberg repeated Nato’s long-standing appeal for European member states to spend more on defence.

He said Nato states in total would this year spend 1.5 percent more, a sum worth €3 billion, than last year.

Fighting Islamic State

The Warsaw summit will focus on Nato’s eastern flank.

But Stoltenberg said Nato will also discuss sending Awacs reconnaissance planes to help fight Islamic State, the jihadist group in Iraq and Syria.

He said the alliance is in talks with the new government in Libya to send Nato experts to help create a defence ministry and military command and control structures.

Following the Brussels and Paris terrorist attacks, Nato states are also to increase intelligence sharing.

Stoltenberg said the alliance will create a new post, an “assistant secretary general for intelligence”. “I expect an agreement [on the post] before the [Warsaw] summit,” he said.

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