Monday 22 January 2018

Nato plans to send 4,000 troops to Russian borders will be greeted with fury in Moscow

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

Roland Oliphant in Moscow

Nato allies are mulling the deployment of 4,000 troops to countries bordering Russia in a bid to deter the Kremlin from military adventurism against the bloc's eastern-most members, according to reports.

The proposals are part of a wide-ranging debate within the alliance about the long-term response to Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and support for a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine.

Proposals being considered include deploying troops to Eastern Europe under direct Nato command in peacetime, in an unprecedented move that will likely be greeted with fury in Moscow.

One plan reportedly under consideration would see battalions of 800 to 1,000 troops deployed to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

A less extensive plan would see a single battalion deployed to the region.

Britain, which currently has 150 troops deployed to the Baltic States, would have to agree to place its forces there under Nato command.

Diplomats and military chiefs are believed to be keen to "send a message" to Moscow that the alliance is well coordinated and committed to defending its easternmost member states.

Several eastern members including Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, have called for a significant strengthening of the alliance's military presence to the region to deter possible Russian aggression.

But others, notably Germany, are said to be wary of making a large deployment that could provoke a response from Russia when the ceasefire in Ukraine appears to be holding.

Russia has repeatedly said it considers Nato a security threat, and President Vladimir Putin has blamed the expansion of Nato into Eastern Europe for the crisis in Ukraine.

A large force would likely be seen in Moscow as a violation of a 1994 agreement that forbids the deployment of "substantial" units to frontier areas.

Nato has repeatedly accused Russia of violating that agreement but insists that it has kept to it.

A Nato spokesman said Nato has already bolstered its eastern defences with the creation of a rotational force and six small headquarters in the region.

"Allies will continue to discuss the next steps to deal with security challenges as we prepare for Nato summit in Warsaw next July, including how to further strengthen collective defence through long-term adaption. But we are not discussing at this stage specific options," said Carmen Romero, a Nato deputy spokesperson.

"It would be designed to communicate to the Russians that Nato is serious: it will defend Nato territory"

Maria Zakharova, a spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry, said Russian officials would study the reports before issuing a public response.

Steven Pfifer, a former US Ambassador to Ukraine and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the fact that such discussions were even taking place was an indication that Nato now viewed Russia "not as the partner we'd hoped for over the past 20-odd years, but more as a potential adversary. You're starting to turn the ship."

"If you're talking 800 to 1,000 troops, that would be big," he added.

"And it would be designed to communicate to the Russians that Nato is serious: it will defend Nato territory."

Mr Pfifer said Russia would "not welcome" any troop increases.

"I wouldn't put an armoured brigade in Eastern Estonia. I think that would be very provocative."

Irish Independent

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