NATO sends thousands more troops to eastern flank

DNATO will significantly strengthen its combat troops on the eastern flank and for the first time use parts of the rapid reaction force. “We are deploying elements of the NATO Response Force on land, at sea and in the air,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a video conference of the thirty heads of state and government. It is about strengthening the presence and being able to react to any sudden development. Stoltenberg spoke of “thousands of troops” who would be relocated “in the next few days” without giving any further details.

Thomas Gutschker

Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.

It is the first time that the force, which was created in 2002 and has been reinforced since 2014 and can comprise up to 40,000 soldiers, is activated for collective defense. The day before, the allies had authorized the commander-in-chief for Europe to move the spearhead of NATO forces. That’s a good 5000 soldiers. The largest part is provided by France, which leads the spearhead. On Thursday evening, American President Joe Biden ordered the transfer of 7,000 soldiers to Germany, whom he had previously put on alert.

As the Pentagon announced, it is essentially an armored brigade from Fort Stewart in the state of Georgia. The forces should arrive in the next few days and could also be transferred from Germany to other NATO countries, it said. “Our troops will not intervene in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” Biden said, but they would “defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American might.” This increases the number of soldiers sent to Europe in the wake of the Ukraine crisis to 12,000, where 80,000 soldiers were previously stationed.

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The leaders accused Russia of a “blatant repudiation” of the principles underlying the NATO-Russia Founding Act. It was closed in 1997 to make the relationship a partnership. “It is Russia that has said goodbye to its obligations under the Act.” When asked whether the alliance no longer sees itself bound by the political agreement, Stoltenberg replied: “If you have a Founding Act between two partners, the NATO and Russia, and one partner doesn’t respect that agreement, then the agreement doesn’t work. One diplomat explained that this debate would be held, but not in the middle of the crisis. However, no one believes the deal will stop NATO from taking the steps it is now taking, a diplomat said.

In the Founding Act, the alliance had promised not to station “substantial combat troops” “permanently” in the territory of the then new eastern members. This self-restraint also applied to atomic bombs. The turnaround was made possible by a new position of the federal government. As the FAZ reported, Chancellor Olaf Scholz had agreed this confidentially on February 8 with French President Emmanuel Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda. After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Berlin was not prepared to take such a step.

At the special summit, Scholz emphasized the need to send more Alliance troops to the eastern member states after the Russian attack on Ukraine. This takes account of the security needs of the NATO partners, said government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit on behalf of the Chancellor after the deliberations. Shortly thereafter, the Federal Ministry of Defense announced that the Bundeswehr would participate in setting up a so-called battle group in Slovakia. For this purpose, army forces in company strength (about 150 soldiers) and the Patriot air defense system would be made available until April. The Netherlands also want to participate. In this way, NATO wants to expand its presence to the neighboring countries of Ukraine and the Black Sea region.

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