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19th Jan 2020

Thousands of Nato soldiers go to Baltic states, Romania

  • American soldier in Afghanistan - the US is to lead the Polish battalion and to send troops to Romania (Photo: The US Army)

Most Nato allies have committed troops to a Russia-deterrent force in the Baltic region. Six of them have also pledged troops to a similar force in Romania.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg announced the decisions after a Nato defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (26 October).

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  • Putin put on a show in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula as Nato ministers met in Brussels (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Canada is to lead one of four Nato battalions to be stationed in the Baltic states and in Poland from early next year.

It will send 400 soldiers to Latvia. They will be joined by 150 troops from Italy and a further 450 or so from Albania, Italy, Poland, and Slovenia.

Germany is to lead the Nato battalion in Lithuania, with up to 600 soldiers, joined by another 400 from Belgium, Croatia, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway.

The UK is taking charge of the Estonia force, with some 800 soldiers, Challenger 2 tanks, Stryker armoured vehicles, and surveillance drones, alongside soldiers from Denmark and France.

The US is to lead the Polish force, with some 900 soldiers, as well as with pre-positioned tanks and artillery, alongside extra British and Romanian troops.

Black Sea brigade

Stoltenberg said Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, the UK, and the US are also sending troops to a new Nato "brigade" in Romania.

A brigade normally amounts to 5,000 troops or more.

Romania became a target of Russian sabre-rattling after it agreed to host part of a Nato anti-missile shield.

The UK will also station Typhoon warplanes in southern Romania to take part in Nato air-policing missions.

The US already has troops at the same airbase and its warships already call at Romanian ports as part of Black Sea operations.

“Our forces will be truly multinational, sending an unmistakable message: Nato stands as one. An attack on any ally will be considered an attack on us all”, Stoltenberg said.

“They will be robust, they will be multinational, and they will be combat ready”, he said.

The US defence chief, Ash Carter, said the Baltic and Black Sea deployments are “a major sign of the US commitment to strengthening deterrence here”.

Stoltenberg said the measures were justified by Russia’s build-up of troops on Nato borders - believed to number more than 330,000.

He also cited Russia's snap exercises, some of which have rehearsed invasions of the Baltic states and of Poland, and its aggressive behaviour in Ukraine as justification.

He noted that Russia recently stationed nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad and tore up a US treaty on plutonium disposals.

Russian moves

“These moves do not lower tensions,” he said.

Russia is also planning to deploy five warships, some of which can carry nuclear missiles, in the Baltic Sea, according to Russian sources quoted by the Interfax news agency.

"This is ... worrying," Sweden’s defence minister Peter Hultqvist said.

The Polish defence minister, Antoni Macierewicz, said: “Moving such ships into the Baltic changes the balance of power”.

Russia, at the same time as the Nato meeting, sailed warships past France, Spain, and the UK to join its forces in Syria.

The ships had been due to refuel in a Spanish port.

Some Nato allies had criticised the move, saying Spain should not help Russia due to Russia's air strikes on civilians in the city of Aleppo in Syria.

Russia later claimed it had never asked Spain for help and that its ships would not call there.

Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday also visited Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine two years ago. He promised that a new bridge would connect the peninsula to the Russian mainland in 2018.

Putinism

Speaking to Russia’s Izvestia news agency, Alexander Vershbow, Nato's deputy head, said the West had tried to build "closer" relations with Russia after the Cold War.

"Now, however, I think … it is important for the system of power in Russia, for president Putin, to portray Nato as an enemy”, he said.

He said Russia's actions in Syria were due to “Putin's misinterpretation that the West has some kind of a grand strategy for regime change” there.

He added that EU and Nato expansion in Europe had “created a network of stable democratic states along Russia's periphery” and that “the real instability facing Russia is in the south [from Middle East conflicts], not in the west”.

The US is holding talks with Russia on a potential Syria ceasefire.

Stoltenberg said Nato states’ ambassadors were also keen to talk to Russia’s envoy in a meeting of the Russia-Nato Council “in the near future”.

“Dialogue is even more important when tensions run high”, he said.

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