Friday

1st Mar 2024

Nato to open facilities on Russia's doorstep

  • Stoltenberg (c) spoke of 'a disturbing pattern of destabilising Russian behaviour in its neighbourhood' (Photo: nato.int)

Nato is to open eight new facilities in Russia’s neighbourhood, but allies ruled out giving weapons to Ukraine for now.

The list includes six new “command and control centres” in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.

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It also covers a new “south-eastern headquarters” in Romania and a “training centre” in Georgia. An existing facility in Szczecin, Poland, is to be expanded to be become a “north-eastern headquarters”.

The six command centres, which will include US troops, are to underpin a new “spearhead” force of 5,000 soldiers designed to deter Russian aggression in the Baltic region.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain will command the force on a rotational basis, with the UK to take charge initially and to provide 1,000 personnel.

Nato’s Norwegian head, Jens Stoltenberg, said elements of the force will be ready to deploy by the weekend.

The measures are part of Nato’s reaction to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

It has also: quadrupled air patrols in the Baltic region; increased troop numbers in Bulgaria, Poland, and Romaia; increased its naval presence in the Baltic, Black, and Mediterranean seas; and held dozens of drills on its eastern flank.

Stoltenberg described Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, as “part of a disturbing pattern of destabilising Russian behaviour in its neighbourhood”.

He noted “there's no concrete immediate threat” of Russia’s aggression against Nato member states.

But the former Nato chief, Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told British daily The Telegraph the same day: “This is not about Ukraine. [Russian leader] Putin wants to restore Russia to its former position as a great power … There is a high probability that he will intervene in the Baltics to test Nato’s Article 5 [on collective defence]”.

The Nato defence chiefs met in Brussels amid calls by Ukraine for modern weapons to help stop Russian drones and tanks.

But the US and several EU states ruled out the move due to concerns on escalation.

US defence chief Chuck Hagel said the option is being kept “under review”. But he noted there is “no military solution” to the conflict.

He added that Nato’s Nuclear Planning Group, which also met on Thursday, is concerned about Russia’s “increasingly aggressive actions, such as the recent flight of nuclear capable bombers over the English channel”.

US general Philip Breedlove, Nato’s top military commander, told the AP news agency: “All manner of aid has to be taken in light of what we anticipate would be the Russian reaction”.

Lithuania’s defence minister said it has furnished “elements” of Ukraine’s request.

But the British, Dutch, French, German, and Italian ministers followed the US line.

“More weapons in this area will not bring us closer to a solution”, Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen told reporters. Italy’s Roberta Pinotti said: “We need to lower the temperature of the crisis, not to raise it”.

Provocation?

For its part, Russia reacted angrily to the new Nato facilities.

Alexander Grushko, its Nato ambassador, said the spearhead force increases the risk of a “military confrontation” in the Baltic region.

He described the training centre in Georgia as “provocative”.

He added that if Nato states arm Ukraine it would have “the most dangerous and unpredictable consequences”. Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, said in Moscow the same day that arming Ukraine would pose a “security threat” to Russia.

Nato unity

Meanwhile, Hagel himself voiced concern that Nato’s new Russia focus could alienate members who believe the Middle East should be a bigger priority.

“I worry about the potential for division between our northern and southern allies”, he said.

But Stoltenberg downplayed concerns the new far-left Greek government, which is more Russia-friendly than its predecessors, could cause a split.

“The new Greek minister of defence underlined very strongly for me that they are going to continue to be a committed partner”, he said.

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