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NATO plans new 'spearhead' force to counter Russia

AFP/John Thys

In response to Russian actions in Ukraine, NATO will agree at a summit this week to create a rapid-reaction force of several thousand troops, alliance officials said Monday, prompting Russia to say it would adjust its own military strategy.

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Leaders from the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting for a summit in Wales on Thursday and Friday are expected to create a new "spearhead" force that would be able to respond more quickly to a European crisis.

“We will develop what I would call a 'spearhead' ... a very high-readiness force able to deploy at very short notice. This spearhead would be provided by allies in rotation and could include several thousand troops, ready to respond where needed with air, sea and special forces support,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (pictured above) told a news conference.

"The Readiness Action Plan will ensure that we have the right forces and the right equipment in the right place at the right time. That means a more visible NATO presence in the East for as long as required," Rasmussen said.

The move prompted Kremlin officials to announce that Russia will adjust its own preparedness strategy in response to NATO's new military posture, Russian news agencies reported Tuesday.

The NATO plan "is evidence of the desire of US and NATO leaders to continue their policy of aggravating tensions with Russia", Mikhail Popov, the deputy head of Russia's National Security Council, told RIA-Novosti news agency.

Popov said the new force will be viewed as "one of the foreign military threats to Russia" when the country's defence doctrine is updated later this year.

Moscow has long objected to a NATO presence near its borders. "It is clear that Russia wants to have lots of influence on the government of Ukraine so that it doesn't take the wrong path, that which would take it closer to the West and, above all, [to] NATO," independent regional analyst Maria Lipman told AFP.

Russia's decision to send in forces and effectively seize control of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March has prompted NATO to consider boosting its ability to act quickly if a similar crisis ever occurred on the territory of a NATO member. NATO suspended all “practical civilian and military cooperation” with Russia in April to protest against its annexation of the Black Sea territory.

The alliance says Russia now has more than 1,000 soldiers deployed inside Ukraine, a charge Moscow denies.

A senior NATO official speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that the new batallions could range from a “very small" force to something as large as a typical NATO brigade, numbering between 3,000 and 5,000 troops.

The official said the first elements of the force could be able to deploy to a crisis in just two days. It currently takes five days for the first units of NATO’s rapid reaction force to arrive on the ground.

Russia's 'hybrid' warfare

The goal of the new NATO plan is to show that it is serious about its commitments under Article 5, which states that an attack on one NATO member is considered an attack on all, and emphasise that it will come to the aid of any NATO ally facing outside aggression.

NATO will also “enhance the breadth and depth” of the naval forces it has on standby, to which alliance members take turns contributing.

It will also work to improve its intelligence capabilities and its ability to respond to the type of “hybrid” warfare used by Russia in Ukraine, which alliance officials say has included disinformation, subversion and cyber attacks.

NATO members in Eastern Europe have in the past appealed to NATO to set up permanent bases housing thousands of troops on their territory to deter any future aggression from Russia.

But NATO command has largely rejected that idea, in part because of the high expense involved and partly because it does not want to violate the terms of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, under which NATO agreed not to station significant numbers of combat forces permanently in Eastern Europe.

In light of the Ukraine crisis, however, US General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, said in May that permanent bases in the east was “something we will have to consider”.

For now, NATO leaders plan to pre-position equipment and supplies – such as fuel and ammunition – in Eastern European countries, with bases readied to receive the new NATO rapid reaction force if needed.

This will enable the new spearhead force to "travel light, but strike hard if needed", Rasmussen said.

Some infrastructure in Poland and the Baltics, including ports and airstrips, may have to be upgraded to enable the countries to receive troop reinforcements quickly, NATO officials said.

NATO will also continue pursuing the measures it has already adopted in response to the Ukraine crisis, including a decision to send more fighter jets to the Baltics and expanding military exercises in Eastern Europe.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

 

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