NATO’s chief announced Monday that the alliance will agree this week to send four multinational battalions to the Baltic states and Poland to boost their defenses against Russia.
Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, said alliance defense ministers will formally approve the deployment plan drafted by NATO military planners at a meeting that begins Tuesday in Brussels.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, four of NATO’s members that feel most threatened by Russia, will each be reinforced by “a robust multinational battalion,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.
“This will send a clear signal that NATO stands ready to defend any ally,” the alliance chief said.
There was no immediate reaction from Moscow. The Kremlin has accused NATO of moving more and more military forces close to its borders, and vowed to do what it takes to protect Russia’s national security and interests.
Poland and the Baltic states have been seeking permanent, significant NATO troop presence on their territory since Russia, their neighbor to the east, annexed the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and began backing pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The four alliance members believe the NATO boots on their soil will be an unmistakable sign of the alliance’s commitment to their security, and serve as a deterrent to the Russians.
Until now, “Poland has stepped into NATO, but NATO has failed to step into our territory,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said recently.
Stoltenberg said the battalions will be under the orders of NATO commanders, and deploy on a rotational basis rather than being based permanently in the host countries.
U.S. NATO Ambassador Douglas Lute said numerous details, including the exact number of troops involved as well as the national composition of the battalions and who will be in command, remained to be decided and will be announced at the July NATO summit in Warsaw.
“By Warsaw, three weeks from now, we’ll have answers to who’s contributing where,” Lute told a news conference in Brussels.
With some 800-1,000 troops in each unit, NATO officials estimate some 4,000 troops will be deployed in total.
Earlier in the day, speaking during a telephone press briefing, Lute, a former three-star U.S. Army general, said the troops will rotate, but coverage will be continuous and the presence will be maintained as long as necessary.
A leading European security analyst said the units’ purpose is not so much to repel any attacking Russians, but to make clear to Moscow that an act of aggression could rapidly bring it into head-to-head military conflict with the United States and other NATO member countries, who could rush in further reinforcements.
“Deterrence of the Russians will be more in the assurance that if they were to attack, they would come into contact with NATO forces almost immediately, and that therefore the Russians should not doubt NATO’s determination to fight,” said Jonathan Eyal, international director at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “For that, you don’t need large numbers of troops.”
The United States, Britain and Germany have already committed to acting as so-called framework nations to furnish core forces for three of the battalions.