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June 15, Brussels, NATO Defense Ministers agreed on stability projects beyond the Alliance’s borders. Officially these decisions to be approved at their summit in Warsaw in early July, but now we can talk about the new strategy of NATO: strengthening the defense of their eastern borders.
Officially, NATO announced that increasing power in Poland, the Baltic and the Black Sea region, in the Mediterranean is not directed against any country.
Informally, NATO representatives call two major challenges – Russia’s destabilizing policy on the east and southern threat of Africa.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the US Army Europe commander, recently publicly admitted that NATO to change its strategy.
The last two years, after the summit in Wales, NATO worked on the implementation of Readiness Action Plan and strengthening the forces of deterrence and defense. The number of rapid reaction forces was increased three times - to 40 thousand troops. A rapid response group, numbering 5000 soldiers, was established; within 48 hours it can be deployed in any part of Europe.
The Alliance has created eight new small headquarters in the eastern countries. Their main task is to coordinate movement techniques, exercises and accumulation of necessary equipment.
Now it is time to locate the extra forces on the eastern side.
This very question was a major topic at the ministerial meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.
Four battalions near the borders with Russia
Ministers agreed on the decision to locate four multinational battalions in Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. They will be one of the elements of NATO Response Force.
Currently, their specific location and equipment are under development. According the US permanent representative to the NATO, Douglas Lute, the size of each of the four battalions will be 800-1000 persons, and they will change every six months. They will be armed with heavy equipment.
According to US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, the United States, Britain, and Germany would make the main contribution to the formation of battalions. "But I expect that the list of countries is not limited," he said.
Another NATO representative noted that the new battalions of NATO in the Baltics and Poland may appear as early as 2017.
It should be noted that the last week, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have signed a new agreement with the NATO mission in support of NATO air police and other measures in the Baltic Sea Region.
The agreement will facilitate the creation of new opportunities for air exercises in the Baltic region.
NATO boosts presence in the Black Sea
A separate topic of ministerial negotiations was the situation in the Black Sea region. Over the past two years, NATO has increased the number of exercises in the Black Sea and introduced air police mission.
Last month, the US launched NATO missile shield in Romania. Now the ministers in Brussels decided to increase the military presence, including the question of making multinational brigade in Romania.
The proposal was made by the Romanian side, which stresses that the creation of such a unit would improve coordination of the trainings in the Black Sea.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO is not seeking for a confrontation with Russia; he also stressed that NATO to defend the allies from any threats.
New aid for Ukraine
Ukrainian question was considered at a separate meeting - in the form of NATO-Ukraine Commission.
Defense Ministers agreed to boost NATO's support for Ukraine with a Comprehensive Package of Assistance.
The Alliance is already implementing projects under the Trust Funds established for Ukraine, including on command and control, cyber defense, and rehabilitating wounded soldiers. “We are also developing new projects, including in the areas of countering hybrid warfare and explosive devices,” said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
It should be noted that this does not mean sale of arms to Ukraine. Stoltenberg said that NATO does not deal with selling weapons and does not participate in its distribution.
"Some NATO countries could have such agreements, but I cannot say anything about it; it happens on a bilateral basis," he noted.
NATO chief stressed that the new aid package is aimed at creating a more efficient and effective defensive structures in Ukraine and strengthen civilian control over them.
Defense Minister of Ukraine Stepan Poltorak, who represented Ukraine at the commission meeting, also introduced a new Strategic Defense Bulletin - defense sector reform plan, which was developed together with NATO experts.
This document would categorize the areas of NATO’s assistance to Ukraine.
Poltorak said that the aid package will include the strategic directions needed to complete the defense reforms by the end of 2020.
"We are already carrying out the projects under the trust fund that we created for Ukraine. We are also developing new projects concerning combating hybrid warfare and detection of explosives," added to Stoltenberg.
Crucial summit in Warsaw
NATO Defense Ministers also talked about the cyber threats that have become part of a hybrid war.
NATO has formally acknowledged the cyber area as an "operational space," which requires extra protection.
But the key message of the past two years does not apply to fighting against hackers or assistance to Ukraine.
The main thing is that the allies have changed their approach to financing their own security.
Allies seem to have stopped to save on defense. For the first time in many years, the total defense budget NATO has increased. In 2015, the growth was 1.5%, or $ 3 billion.
All of the agreed solutions would be officially approved at the NATO Summit in Warsaw on 8-9 July.