UK to send five ships with 530 personnel to Baltic

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The UK is to send five extra ships to the Baltic as part of a NATO buildup against Russia, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

A sizeable contingent of British troops are also likely to contribute to a new NATO force of up to 6,000 to be stationed on a rotational basis in six countries bordering Russia.

A decision on troop numbers is expected to be taken at the NATO summit in Warsaw in the summer. Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – have been pressing for boots on the ground from the US, Britain and Germany, in the belief that their presence would act as a deterrent to Russia.

The naval deployment and the expected troop contributions are part of what NATO describes as a more muscular approach to Russian president Vladimir Putin, the article points out.

After years of steady military withdrawal from Europe since the end of the cold war, the US last week announced a quadrupling of military spending to USD 3.4 billion to increase its presence in Europe as a counter to Russia.

The UK contribution, though modest by comparison, is still significant given the extent to which the navy has been reduced after years of cutbacks, the newspaper points out.

The UK defense secretary, Michael Fallon, who is scheduled to attend a two-day NATO meeting on Wednesday in Brussels with an agenda dominated by Russia, announced that the UK is to contribute to a permanent NATO naval force for the first time since 2010.

“Increasing our NATO deployments sends a strong message to our enemies that we are ready to respond to any threat and defend our allies. 2016 will see a particular focus on the Baltic region,” Fallon said.

The growing NATO presence in the Baltic states is intended to deter Russia from repeating in the region the kind of intervention seen in Ukraine, NATO says.

The UK, which already has planes operating in the Baltic states and regularly sends troops to the region on training exercises, is to deploy a Type 23 Frigate – HMS Iron Duke – with the NATO force in the Baltic, as well as a Type-45 destroyer and three minesweepers, with, in all, 530 naval personnel.

US defense secretary Ash Carter is to brief other NATO defense ministers on the details of American plans for Europe, with about half of the USD 3.4 billion to be spent on pre-positioning of tanks, artillery and other equipment in western Europe – because of its better transport network – for fast deployment to eastern Europe if need be.

The US ambassador to NATO, Douglas Lute, described the new American posture of prepositioning heavy equipment in western Europe as “modern deterrence” or “21st century deterrence”, a flexible, rapid-reaction force in contrast with the heavy, fixed force that existed during the cold war.

He rejected media criticism that the US move is provocative. “NATO has not invaded anyone recently,” he said.

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