NATO to deploy four battalions in bid to reassure Poland, Baltic allies

 Jens Stoltenberg

Jens Stoltenberg

NATO’s chief on Monday said the alliance will agree this week to send four multinational battalions to the Baltic states and Poland as part of its response to Russian meddling in Ukraine and a series of alleged provocations by Russian military.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the troop surge in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland was meant to “send a clear signal that NATO stands ready to defend any ally”.

“We will agree to deploy by rotation four robust multi-national battalions in the Baltic states and Poland,” he told a news conference ahead of a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels on Tuesday.

NATO leaders are due to sign off on the programme at a July 8-9 summit in Poland, which has pushed for a much harder line, including having permanent bases in the east to counter Russia.

The Baltic states and Poland have expressed concern over perceived threats by Moscow, especially following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and covert Russian military interventions on the side of Ukrainian separatists.

The announcement also comes after a series of risky military encounters between Russian and US military personnel.

In April, the US Navy vehemently protested what it described as a “simulated attack” by a Russian fighter jet, which flew within nine metres of a US destroyer that was conducting exercises in the Baltic Sea.

The Donald Cook was in international waters off the coast of Poland. Those waters are also close to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Stoltenberg insisted that NATO’s response to the Ukraine crisis was purely defensive and that it did not seek any “confrontation” with Russia.

Increase in NATO spending

The NATO chief did not say how many troops would be deployed in the four battalions but officials previously have said they will number between 2,500 and 3,000.

He stressed that the deployment – to be made on a rotational basis, not permanent so as not to infringe existing treaties with Russia – was part of a much wider response to the Ukraine crisis.

This includes tripling the NATO Response Force to 40,000 men ready to move at short notice, creating a Spearhead force of about 5,000 on a just few days standby.

It also includes pre-positioning equipment and headquarters units so these troops can hit the ground running in any fresh crisis.

Topping off the revamp is a commitment by NATO’s 28 member states to reverse years of spending cuts and devote two percent of total national economic output to defence within a decade.

Stoltenberg said progress was being made in this crucial area, with the allies spending 0.6 percent more on defence last year and an increase of 1.5 percent expected in 2016.