NATO Leaders Begin Considering Additional Battlegroups for Eastern Europe
France offers to lead new unit in Romania as NATO defense ministers agree more options are needed for the ‘new normal’ with Russia.
NATO defense ministers are drawing up plans to station more troops along the eastern front to face the “new normal” of an aggressive Russia, the alliance’s leader said Wednesday.
Russia has stationed 150,000 troops around Ukraine and, despite commitments on Tuesday to withdraw forces and pursue diplomacy, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there are no signs of troops and capabilities leaving the Ukrainian border, and “Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack.”
“I regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference in Brussels. “Therefore, today ministers decided to develop options to further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defense, including to consider establishing new NATO battlegroups in…eastern and southeastern Europe.”
France has offered to lead a new battlegroup in Romania. Military leaders are expected to work out other details for additional troops in the Black Sea region “within weeks,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO already has four multinational battlegroups in eastern Europe that were established at NATO’s 2016 Warsaw Summit in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. There are forces in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, which are led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and the United States, respectively. Approximately 4,600 troops are stationed among the four battlegroups, and individual groups have between 500 to 800 personnel, according to a NATO fact sheet.
NATO has been expanding troops eastward, or planning to do so, including through battlegroups, for the past several years. In 2017, after the U.S. had already deployed troops to the Poland battlegroup, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who was then Army chief of staff, said “additional capability” was needed to Europe “to ensure deterrence of further Russian territorial aggression.”
In diplomatic negotiations to end Russia’s build up around Ukraine, Moscow has demanded that NATO withdraw from eastern Europe and not admit any additional eastern European nations to the alliance, including Ukraine.
Stoltenberg stressed that additional troops would serve to deter and defend NATO and pose no threat to Russia, when asked if the proposal might provoke Russia even further at a time when tensions are already high.
“NATO is a defensive alliance,” he said. “NATO is not a threat to Russia.”