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23rd Feb 2020

Nato states pledge troops to Russia-deterrent force

  • British Challenger 2 tanks are to defend Estonia from potential Russian aggression (Photo: Simon Ballantyne)

Nato states are pledging troops to a Russia-deterrent force in the Baltic region, amid concern that Russian warships, due to refuel in Spain, are to join strikes on Aleppo.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato chief, said that defence ministers from Canada, Germany, the UK, and the US would, in Brussels on Wednesday (26 October), “set out their plans for the battalions they will lead” and that other allies would “confirm their contributions” to the deterrent force.

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  • Nato states agreed to deploy the Russia-deterrent force at a summit in Warsaw in July (Photo: nato.it)

“This shows that Nato is able to respond, Nato is able to adapt to a more assertive Russia,” he said.

He said Russia had, over the past six years, tripled defence spending, moved troops and materiel toward Nato borders, and shown “willingness … to use [its] armed forces against [its] neighbours”.

“This [the Baltic force] is a credible deterrence, not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent conflict”, he said.

Canada, Germany, the UK, and the US earlier in July agreed to each lead a battalion of some 1,000 troops to be stationed, from early next year, in the Baltic states and in Poland.

Denmark, France, and Italy have also said they would send troops.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday, the British defence minister, Michael Fallon, said the UK would send about 500 soldiers, as well as drones, Challenger 2 battle tanks, and Warrior armoured vehicles to Estonia

“Although we are leaving the European Union, we remain committed to European security,” he said.

The US is to deploy about 1,000 soldiers, as well as Abrams tanks and Stryker armoured vehicles, mostly in Poland.

A larger force of 40,000 Nato soldiers could also be deployed in the event of Russian aggression.

“We expect a sustained challenge from the east, from Russia, by way of its military activities,” Douglas Lute, the US ambassador to Nato, said on Tuesday.

Spain

Stoltenberg the same day voiced concern that Spain, a Nato member, planned to help a group of Russian warships to get to Syria by offering to refuel them in Ceuta, its exclave in Morocco.

The flotilla, led by the Admiral Kuznetsov, an ageing aircraft carrier, put on a show by sailing past the UK and France a few days ago as EU leaders met in Brussels to condemn Russian air strikes on civilians in the city of Aleppo in Syria.

The Nato chief said he had “conveyed” his worries “very clearly” to Madrid.

“It’s for each nation to decide whether these ships can get supplies … but at the same time we are concerned, and I have expressed that very clearly, about the potential use of this battle group to increase Russia’s ability and to be a platform for air strikes against Syria”, he said.

Spain on Tuesday said it was reconsidering its decision, while Lute and others piled on the pressure.

Lute said a “problem would arise if this ship [the Admiral Kuznetsov] contributes to the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets”.

Gerald Howarth, a former British defence minister, told The Daily Telegraph newspaper, it would be “wholly inappropriate” for Spain to go ahead.

Alan West, a former British naval chief, said it would be “an extraordinary thing for a Nato ally to do”.

EU cooperation

Stoltenberg said defence ministers will also discuss how to help the EU stop irregular migrant crossings in the Aegean and in the Mediterranean.

He said a new Nato mission, to be called Sea Guardian, would help the EU operations in the Mediterranean "in areas of sharing information and logistics”.

He said Nato and the EU were also to cooperate on “hybrid and cyber defence, maritime security and exercises” and on countering Russian propaganda.

“We see that Russia is providing a lot of, is supporting different groups trying to influence domestic debate in different countries in Europe and we see a lot of propaganda”, he said.

Meddling

Russian influence operations were highlighted on Tuesday when the prime minister of Montenegro, Milo Dukanovic, repeated allegations that Russia had planned a coup d’etat during elections earlier this month.

Montenegro is next in line to join Nato, but Dukanovic said that group of some 20 Serbian nationals, who were not connected to the Serbian state, had planned to seize parliament on election day.

"We have a heavy presence of foreign actors in Montenegro," he said.

US authorities have also accused Russia of meddling in the American presidential election.

Nato's Stoltenberg on Tuesday rebuffed comments by Donald Trump, the pro-Russian US candidate, that the US would not protect Nato allies who did not spend enough money on defence.

“We don’t say: If you don’t pay, we won’t protect you,” Stoltenberg said.

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