BRUSSELS ( Associated Press) – NATO defense ministers met on Thursday to discuss building forces on the coalition’s eastern borders and deterrent measures to prevent Russia from planning a new offensive.
The war that the Kremlin launched in Ukraine last February led the Allies to review their strategies and agree that more NATO troops should be present on that border. Although they have already brought more troops and material to the region, they want to guarantee deployment over a longer period.
In response to the invasion of Ukraine, NATO said it had placed about 40,000 troops under its direct command, especially on the east coast.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the allies would make long-term deployment decisions “to ensure they can protect every inch of allied territory.”
The ministers met ahead of the NATO summit on June 29 and 30 in Madrid, which will try to set the direction of the alliance for years to come.
Germany has already announced plans to increase its mission in Lithuania, while France is looking to increase its presence in Romania, where it hopes to have 1,000 troops supported by Leclerc tanks by the end of the year.
Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said the military alliance should deploy more troops and material to the Baltic states.
“We want better planning, we want a headquarters structure, we want to pre-position different types of teams so that we don’t have to wait when a crisis strikes,” he said.
Stoltenberg said the talks in Brussels would also address the need to increase defense spending, as well as requesting Sweden and Finland to join the organisation.
Solntenberg welcomed the US decision to send one billion dollars in additional military aid to Ukraine, saying that NATO allies stand ready to “continue to provide substantial, unprecedented support” to the country.
Washington said the new package includes anti-ship missile launchers, howitzers and more ammunition for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, which the US military trains Ukrainian soldiers to use. All the major weapons systems are what the Ukrainian authorities have urgently requested in their efforts to halt the slow but steady Russian progress to conquer the eastern Donbass region.
The United States Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, in a statement accompanying Stoltenberg, praised the “historic decision” of Finland and Sweden to request access to the bloc and expressed his hope that the talks would continue to proceed favourably.
Turkey has expressed its categorical opposition to the accession of the two Nordic countries, and Stoltenberg is trying to break the blockade. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted that Finland and Sweden should show more respect for Turkey’s concerns about terrorism, what it described as their alleged support for Kurdish militiamen.