: Baltic military chiefs welcome NATO deployment to deter Russia

20:03 Jun. 16, 2016

Baltic military chiefs welcome NATO deployment to deter Russia

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jet lands at the Siauliai airbase, some 230 km east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, April 27, 2016 (AP photo)

NATO's battalions are part of a wider deterrent to be approved at the Warsaw summit on July 8

Baltic military leaders have welcomed NATO's plans to spearhead a new NATO force on Russia's border from next year.

Weeks before a critical NATO summit in Warsaw, three of NATO's biggest military powers said on June 14 they would each command a battalion across the eastern flank to help deter any show of force such as that deployed by Moscow in Crimea in 2014.

Germany is likely to deploy to Lithuania, the United States to Poland and Britain to Estonia, on a six- to nine-month rotating basis. Other NATO nations will eventually take command responsibilities, diplomats told Reuters. Western officials also acknowledged discussions in Canada to lead a fourth battalion.

Read also NATO is strengthening its eastern flank

NATO hopes the complex plan can discourage Russia from orchestrating the kind of campaign used to annex Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in February 2014 and which has left eastern allies nervous of their former Soviet overlord.

The Latvian chief of defence welcomed the decision, saying it was a show of unity that would discourage aggression.

"This is a historical event and we in the Baltic states can feel safer after this decision," Raimonds Graube told Reuters.

Graube's Estonian counterpart Riho Terras described the deployment as "a speed bump with spikes".

NATO's battalions are part of a wider deterrent to be approved at the Warsaw summit on July 8. It will involve troops on rotation, warehoused equipment and a highly mobile force backed by NATO's 40,000-strong rapid reaction unit.

Lithuania's chief of defence, Lieutenant General Jonas Zukas, said the deployment would "fundamentally" change the situation as several thousand soldiers would conduct joint defence exercises with local forces.

"This will no longer be just a politically visible and very reassuring message for our people, but instead these will be forces able to actually repel," Zukas told Reuters on the sidelines of a German military exercise on Tuesday (June 14).

Russia sees NATO's deterrence plans as hostile. Moscow's envoy to the alliance has warned they threaten peace in central Europe. The Kremlin also says a U.S. ballistic missile shield, which Washington says is directed at protecting the alliance from Iran, is also escalating tensions.

The United States denies that. NATO says it is respecting a 1997 agreement with Moscow not to deploy substantial combat forces on Russia's borders.

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