Nato generals to redraw troop and missile strategies as Russia bombards Ukraine

Bloc's military commanders urged to strengthen deterrence against further Russian attack

Polish and US troops in Mielec, Poland, as Nato strengthens its eastern flank while Russia continues its advance in Ukraine. Getty
Powered by automated translation

Nato's top generals have been asked to redesign the bloc's defences to deter further military aggression by Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

The bloc's 30 countries will tell their military commanders to draw up a new posture to reflect what Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called a "new reality for our security" at a summit of Nato defence ministers on Wednesday.

Mr Stoltenberg said the long-term shift in strategy should include stronger missile defence and more battle-ready equipment positioned on Europe's eastern flank to prepare for a Russian attack.

In the shorter term, the US-led alliance already has hundreds of thousands of troops on heightened alert to back up its promise that it will defend "every inch" of its territory against Russia.

But senior figures including Mr Stoltenberg rejected the idea put forward by Poland that an armed Nato peacekeeping mission could enter Ukraine to provide humanitarian aid.

The suggestion by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s deputy prime minister and chairman of its ruling party, failed to shift Nato's stance that donating weapons and other equipment to Ukraine was permissible but that direct involvement in the war comes with too high a risk of a wider war with Russia.

Nato has likewise refused Ukraine’s demands to establish a no-fly zone over the country for fear that shooting down Russian planes would provoke a wider European conflict. That same concern helped to sink another proposal of Poland's, to provide a fleet of Soviet-era MiG-29 jets, in a transfer the US described as untenable.

"Of course, we support peace efforts. But we have no plans of deploying Nato troops on the ground in Ukraine," said Mr Stoltenberg of the Polish peacekeeping proposal.

Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, who addressed Wednesday's summit in Brussels, has called for the alliance to simplify bureaucracy and speed up sending weapons to the besieged country.

Nato credits its supplies of equipment with slowing down the Russian advance, thereby improving Ukraine's bargaining position in peace negotiations.

But it is also looking beyond the immediate conflict at the question of how it prepares for what senior leaders have described as a new era of hostility with Russia.

Sketching out his proposals for a rethink of Nato's defences in Eastern Europe, Mr Stoltenberg said the alliance "must reset our collective defence and deterrence for the longer term".

On land, this should include "substantially more forces" in the eastern part of the bloc, he said, with troops at higher readiness and better equipped.

In the sky, Nato should strengthen its integrated air and missile defence, while sea defences should consist of carrier strike groups, submarines and "significant numbers of combat ships on a persistent basis", he said.

Nato forces "should also train and exercise more often and in greater numbers".

The proposal by Mr Kaczynski emerged from his visit to Kyiv with the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, in what Ukraine hailed as a courageous act of solidarity.

It was the first visit by such a delegation since Russia invaded Ukraine. The three leaders were safely back in Poland on Wednesday morning, a Polish government spokesman said.

Defence ministers arriving for the talks in Brussels said successful peace negotiations were the best way forward as they reacted coolly to Poland's peacekeeping proposal.

Kajsa Ollongren, the Dutch Defence Minister, said it was “very difficult to see a peace mission now with a war going on”, with Russian troops directly attacking and besieging major cities in Ukraine.

“We’re still in too early stages to talk about that. First, we have to have a ceasefire. We have to see withdrawal from Russia,” she said.

Luxembourg’s Francois Bausch offered a “very clear no” to Poland’s suggestion, instead calling for Russia to return to the negotiating table.

Estonia’s Defence Minister Kalle Laanet said he was open to Poland’s idea, which he described as one of the possibilities for helping Ukraine.

But he said any such peacekeeping mission should be supported by the UN Security Council, where Russia is a permanent member and has a veto.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy conceded on Tuesday that his country was unlikely to join Nato any time soon and said he was looking for other types of security guarantees.

But Mr Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the door was still open for Ukraine to apply and that it would then be up to the 30 member countries to decide.

Updated: March 16, 2022, 5:32 PM