Nato's Russia-deterrent takes shape in Warsaw
Canada, Germany, the UK and the US will take the lead in defending Europe from potential Russian aggression, in plans agreed at a Nato summit in Warsaw on Friday (8 July).
Canada will head a force of some 1,000 men, called a battalion in military jargon, to be stationed in Latvia. Germany will lead a battalion in Lithuania. The UK will lead one in Estonia and the US will lead one in Poland.
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US leader Barack Obama told Polish president Andrzej Duda that almost 1,000 US soldiers would be deployed there to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Polish troops. British leader David Cameron said he would send 500 men to Estonia and 150 to Poland.
A senior Nato official said France would also send large numbers of men to Estonia and Lithuania.
He said the US pledge was “substantial by its very nature”. If US troops were fired upon, it would guarantee direct US engagement alongside Nato treaty obligations.
Nato head Jens Stoltenberg said “practically all the [Nato] nations" pledged on Friday that they would contribute soldiers either to the battalions or to reinforcement troops to be stationed elsewhere in Europe.
He said the deployment would be “open-ended” and would last as long as the Russian threat persisted.
The forces are to start coming “at some time” in 2017. They are to be “combat ready” to handle a “limited incursion”, such as Russia’s attack on Crimea in Ukraine two years ago, before reinforcements of up to 40,000 men and heavy armour arrived.
Details of what kind of operations or drills they would conduct are still to be discussed.
The Nato official said Friday’s meeting marked “the return of Canada” to European defence after the Cold War and that the decisions, more broadly, marked “the most significant change in a generation” to Nato’s posture.
The battalions are part of wider plans that also include eight new military HQs in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia and a joint Bulgarian-Romanian force with Nato elements in Romania.
The Nato official indicated that the alliance is preparing for a full scale confrontation with Russia if need be, including large scale conventional warfare and nuclear warfare.
He said Russia has built “bubbles” of conventional rocket bases in Crimea, in the Kamchatka region in Russia's far east, in its Kaliningrad exclave in Europe, and in Syria that could be used to cut Nato’s supply and reinforcement lines.
But he added: “I’ll put this diplomatically, carefully: Such a capability can be addressed and tackled in order to maintain freedom of movement”.
Nato states’ ambassadors will meet with Russia’s envoy to the alliance in Brussels on Wednesday (13 July) to discuss the developments.
The meeting will discuss how to make sure there’s no accidental exchange of fire in the Baltic region or in Syria. It will also discuss implementation of the so called Minsk peace accord on east Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said on Friday the moves were defensive in nature and came in reaction to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and its menacing drills in the Baltic region.
He said “Russia cannot and should not be isolated” because it was Europe’s largest neighbour and a UN veto holder. He also said diplomatic dialogue was needed more than ever to reduce tensions.
The French president, Francois Hollande, spoke of Russia in even warmer tones on Friday.
He told press in Warsaw that: “For France, Russia is not an adversary, not a threat. Russia is a partner which, it is true, may, sometimes, and we have seen that in Ukraine, use force, which we have condemned, as when it annexed Crimea”.
With Nato leaders and top EU officials putting on a show of solidarity in the Polish capital, the French president laid claim to his own foreign policy.
"Nato has no role at all to be saying what Europe's relations with Russia should be”, Hollande said.