NATO increasing military presence in Eastern Europe to counter Russia

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |   Oct. 27, 2016 at 7:32 AM
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BRUSSELS, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- NATO countries, including the United States and Britain, on Wednesday pledged to increase their military presence in Eastern Europe to levels rivaling the Cold War to counter Russian aggression.

Britain said it would send fighter jets to Romania in 2017, also contributing to a 4,000-strong ground force along with Germany, Canada and other allies to be deployed in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe.

The United States pledged tanks, artillery and more than 900 ground troops to Poland as part of a "battle-ready" task force ordered by President Barack Obama.

The announcement follows an agreement of a NATO summit in Warsaw in July in which NATO said it would deploy four battalions by early 2017 in the region. NATO defense ministers met on Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels to discuss how to handle NATO's "deterrence and defense, and also on how to project stability beyond our borders."

"Close to our borders, Russia continues its assertive military posturing. Including with massive, non-notice exercises," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a press conference. "This month alone, Russia has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad and suspended a weapons-grade plutonium agreement with the United States. And Russia continues to destabilize eastern Ukraine with military and financial support for the separatists. These moves do not lower tensions or restore predictability to our relations."

Stoltenberg also criticized Russia's actions in Syria, particularly in Aleppo. In September 2015, Russia began aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally, by carrying out airstrikes against Assad's enemies -- which include the Islamic State and rebel forces, some of which are considered moderate by the United States.

Stoltenberg said that although NATO is working to deescalate tensions and increase dialogue with Russia to establish a "more cooperative and constructive relationship" -- adding that NATO does not "want a new Cold War" or a "new arms race" -- the alliance must react to Russia's "substantial and significant military buildup."

"Russia has tripled defense spending. Russia has invested heavily in a modern military equipment," Stoltenberg added. "They are conducting a large scale no notice exercises close to NATO boarders, but perhaps most importantly Russia has been willing to use military force against neighbors. We have seen that in Georgia and we have seen it in Ukraine with illegal annexation of Crimea and the continued destabilization of Eastern Ukraine."

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