How NATO has positioned its forces on Europe's eastern flank

NATO readies to defend its borders: How the alliance has positioned its forces on Europe’s eastern flank over fears Russia will not stop at Ukraine

  • Thousands of troops, backed by air and naval support, have been sent to protect allies near Russia and Ukraine in response to Putin’s decision to invade
  • In recent days, British troops have arrived in Estonia while Norwegian soldiers landed in Lithuania as they bolster NATO’s eastern flank
  • The United States recently reinforced the region with some 5,000 additional troops deployed to Poland and Romania 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen a build-up of NATO troops deployed across eastern Europe in an effort to further reinforce the region.

Thousands of troops, backed by air and naval support, have been sent to protect allies near Russia and Ukraine in response to Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade.    

The size of NATO battlegroups in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, once ruled from Moscow but now part of the European Union, are set to almost double from 3,400 troops at the start of the year to more than 6,000 in the near future.

In recent days, British troops have arrived in Estonia while Norwegian soldiers landed in Lithuania as they bolster NATO’s eastern flank amid fears Russia will not stop at Ukraine and invade the former Soviet states as well.

The United States recently reinforced the region with some 5,000 additional troops deployed to Poland and Romania. Both NATO countries border Ukraine, which is not part of NATO. 

A number of French troops were traveling to Romania on Tuesday to further strengthen the region, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said. 

The alliance is to discuss further reinforcement steps at its next summit in June in Madrid.

U.S. soldiers line up at an airport in Bavaria, Germany, after they were transferred from Nuremberg, on Tuesday

Tanks uploaded on military truck platforms as a part of additional British troops and military equipment arrive at Estonia’s NATO Battle Group base in Tapa, Estonia, on Friday

Dutch soldiers of the Air Mobile Brigade in Assen arrive at Schiphol Airport for a military exercise which was supposed to take place in Germany, but has been moved to northeast Romania due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on Monday

Norwegian soldiers of the NATO enhanced forward presence battalion pose at a military plane as they arrive at an airport in Kaunas, Lithuania, on Sunday

It is Nato’s responsibility to ‘ensure that we don’t see a development where a conflict in Ukraine spiralled out of control and becomes a full-fledged confrontation between Nato and Russia in Europe,’ Mr Stoltenberg said.

He said alliance commanders are insisting that they are ‘able to maintain deconfliction (contacts) with Russia’.

Meanwhile, an additional NATO battlegroup is being formed for Slovakia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which will include 1,500 troops in total. 

The battlegroup will include 1,200 foreign troops and a Patriot missile defence system manned by German and Dutch personnel, Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said on Saturday.       

NATO-member Slovakia shares a border with Ukraine and does not currently have foreign soldiers stationed on its territory.

NATO pledged to further reinforce its eastern flank after Russia attacked Ukraine this week. 

Slovakia will provide 300 soldiers to the NATO battlegroup, he said, taking its total size to 1,500. Slovakia was also in talks on providing troops for the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia, he said.

German soldiers comprise about half of a 1,100-strong NATO battlegroup in Lithuania that includes troops from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway.

French soldiers of the 27th Battalion of Alpine Hunters listen to a speech at French air force base in Istres before their departure to Romania as part of the NATO’s military reinforcement following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Tuesday

Separately, Britain is reinforcing the British-led NATO battlegroup in Estonia with 800 troops. The UK has also sent Challenger 2 tanks and armoured vehicles of the Royal Welsh battlegroup to the country from Germany.

After these and expected future reinforcements, NATO forces in the Baltic States – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – will almost double and will reach more than 6,000 troops in three battlegroups in each country, Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told Reuters. 

The NATO troops in the three countires numbered about 3,400 at the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, the UK has sent HMS Trent and HMS Diamond, a Type 45 destroyer, to conduct NATO exercises with Merlin helicopters and RAF P8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft in the eastern Mediterranean.  

Last week, Stoltenberg said NATO will send part of its Response Force and elements of a quickly deployable spearhead unit to the alliance’s eastern flank. It’s the first time the force has been used to defend NATO allies.  

Stoltenberg did not say how many troops would be sent or where they might go, but he did confirm that the move would involve land, sea and air power. 

In response to Europe’s biggest security crisis in decades, Stoltenberg said: ‘We are now deploying the NATO Response Force for the first time in a collective defense context. We speak about thousands of troops. We speak about air and maritime capabilities.’

The NRF can number up to 40,000 troops, but Stoltenberg said that NATO would not be deploying the entire force. Parts of a spearhead unit known in NATO jargon as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, which is currently led by France, will also be sent.

The announcement came after NATO members, ranging from Russia’s neighbor Estonia in the north down around the west of conflict-hit Ukraine to Bulgaria on the Black Sea coast, triggered urgent consultations Thursday about their security amid concerns from the invasion.

‘We will continue to take all measures and decisions required to ensure the security and defense of all allies,’ the leaders said in a statement. ‘We will make all deployments necessary to ensure strong and credible deterrence and defense across the alliance, now and in the future.’

A convoy of British armoured vehicles of the Royal Welsh Battlegroup is on the way to Estonia driving through Liepupe, Latvia, on Friday

A convoy of British armoured vehicles of the Royal Welsh Battlegroup is on the way to Estonia driving through Liepupe, Latvia, on Friday

The world’s biggest security organization previously had around 5,000 troops stationed in the Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — and Poland, but has significantly beefed up its defenses over the past three months.  

Stoltenberg thanked the U.S. and Canada for recent commitments to deploy an extra 7,640 troops, including an armored brigade combat team, artillery units, a naval frigate, and surveillance aircraft. It was not immediately clear whether those troops were part of the NRF deployment. 

The NATO chief today said that, despite Russia’s threats about nuclear weapons, the alliance sees no need to change its own nuclear weapons alert level. 

Stoltenberg spoke following talks on European security with Polish President Andrzej Duda at an air base in Lask, central Poland, where Nato’s Polish and US fighter jets F15 and F16 are based.

‘We will always do what is needed to protect and defend our allies, but we don’t think there is any need now to change the alert levels of Nato’s nuclear forces,’ Mr Stoltenberg said. 

Russia has raised the spectre of nuclear war, reporting on Monday that its land, air and sea nuclear forces were on high alert following President Vladimir Putin’s weekend order.

Nato itself has no nuclear weapons, but three of its members do, the United States, Britain and France.

‘We strongly believe it’s reckless and irresponsible the way Russia is speaking about nuclear weapons,’ Mr Stoltenberg said, standing in one of the base’s hangars, which has been turned into a conference room with Polish and Nato flags and jets around it.

Mr Stoltenberg stressed that Russia has signed a number of deals agreeing that nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought.

He called on Russia to ‘stop the attacks and withdraw all its forces and engage in good faith in diplomatic efforts’ to end the war.

Government delegations from Ukraine and Russia met for talks in southeastern Belarus on Monday, but the outcome was not immediately clear.

‘This is a horrendous, horrific invasion of an innocent country and we see that civilians are killed.

‘It’s a brutality that has to stop immediately,’ Mr Stoltenberg said.   

Meanwhile, France said it would deploy jet fighters and other reinforcements to bolster North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces on the alliance’s eastern flank.

President Emmanuel Macron ordered four jet fighters, along with roughly 100 air-support staff, to be deployed in Estonia beginning by mid-March, according to a Defense Ministry statement. French jet fighters based in France have also stepped up flights over Baltic states, the statement said.

Mr. Macron has also ordered a spearhead battalion with 500 troops to Romania as part of what the French said was an acceleration of a planned deployment, and 200 additional troops to supplement French forces on the ground in Estonia.

‘Russian aggression in Ukraine has created a new situation that necessitates more than ever the need for solidarity among allies,’ France’s Defense Ministry said. 

Some of NATO’s 30 member countries are supplying arms, ammunition and other equipment to Ukraine, but NATO as an organization is not. It won’t launch any military action in support of Ukraine, which is a close partner but has no prospect of joining.

French soldier seen working in a cargo plane as French troops arrive in Constanta, a Black Sea port, eastern Romania, on Monday 

French soldiers are seen leaving a cargo plane as French troops arrive in Constanta, a Black Sea port, eastern Romania, on Monday

The Baltic members, however, have said the West should ‘urgently provide Ukrainian people with weapons, ammunition and any other kind of military support to defend itself as well as economic, financial and political assistance and support, humanitarian aid.’

NATO began beefing up its defenses in northeastern Europe after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Recently, some members have also sent troops, aircraft and warships to the Black Sea region, near allies Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.

Short-term, NATO has also activated an emergency planning system to allow commanders to move forces more quickly. Surveillance aircraft have also begun patrols inside allied territory.

Last week, a contingent of American F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters arrived on NATO’s eastern flank to fortify allied airspace following Russia’s invasion. 

On Thursday, a total of six F-35s forward deployed east from Germany to bases in Estonia, Lithuania and Romania, as part of a broader shuffling of troops and equipment announced by President Joe Biden.

Biden has said that the movement is defensive in nature and that the U.S. has ‘no intention of fighting Russia’, but vowed to defend ‘every inch of NATO territory with a full force of American power.’ Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

‘We are facing a dynamic environment, and the deployment of F-35s to NATO’s eastern flank enhances our defensive posture and amplifies the Alliance’s interoperability,’ said General Jeffrey L. Harrigian, U.S. Air Force in Europe–Air Forces Africa commander, in a statement.

The fighter jets from the 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing had been operating out of Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.

Photos show two of the advanced F-35 fighter jets landing on Thursday at Romania’s 86th Air Base, less than 100 miles from where the Danube River forms the border with Ukraine.

As well, an undisclosed number of F-35 fighters landed Thursday afternoon at NATO’s air base in Amari, near Estonia’s capital Tallinn, Estonian media reported. F-35 fighters were reported to have arrived also at NATO’s air base in Lithuania.

It means some 12,000 U.S. troops, total, have deployed or been ordered to deploy to Europe from the United States, and another 2,000 troops already in Europe who have moved closer to NATO’s eastern flank.

It brings the total US troop level in Europe to well over 90,000.

Biden announced the movement of U.S. troops and equipment eastward in Europe last Tuesday, saying the forces will assist with border reinforcement on NATO’s eastern flank and refugee processing, but will not intervene militarily in Ukraine, where Russia launched an all-out invasion early Thursday.

Source: Read Full Article