Nato defence ministers set to increase forces in bid to deter Russia

Meeting in Brussels could lead to more troops and equipment being sent to the alliance's eastern borders

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin arrive to take part in the defence ministers' meeting in Brussels. Getty.
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A Nato meeting on providing support for Ukraine began in Brussels with defence ministers set to agree on stronger deployments on the military alliance's eastern borders to head off any future Russian aggression.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said the allies would take decisions on the scale of their posture for the longer term “to ensure that we can defend every inch of allied territory".

The war by the Kremlin in Ukraine since February has led the allies to rethink strategies and to agree that Nato forces should be present in greater numbers on that flank. They have already beefed up the deployment of troops and material and want to guarantee a long-term presence.

In response to the invasion, Nato has increased to 40,000 the number of troops under its direct command, mainly on the eastern flank.

Germany has already announced its plans to strengthen its engagement in Lithuania, while France wants to increase its presence in Romania, where it plans to send 1,000 troops, reinforced by Leclerc tanks, by the end of the year.

Artis Pabriks, the Latvian defence minister, said the military alliance should position larger armed forces and material in the Baltic states.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Anita Anand, Canada's defence minister, speak before the Nato meeting in Brussels. Getty

“We want an improved planning, we want a headquarters structure, we want pre-positioning of different types of equipment, so if a crisis would come we should not wait," he said.

Discussions in Brussels will also focus on the need for more defence spending, Mr Stoltenberg said, with the bids from Sweden and Finland to join the alliance also on the table.

Mr Stoltenberg saluted Washington's decision to send an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine and said Nato allies are "prepared to continue to provide substantial, unprecedented support" to the country.

The latest package, the US said, includes anti-ship missile launchers, howitzers and more rounds for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems that American forces are training Ukrainian troops on now. All are important weapons systems that Ukrainian leaders have urgently requested as they fight to stall Russia’s slow but steady march to conquer the eastern Donbas region.

The head of the UK military, Admiral Tony Radakin, said Ukraine had shown itself worthy of support from its allies. “They’re courageous people," he said. "They’re ingenious people in terms of how they’re taking the fight to the Russians."

Earlier this week, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called on the West to help his country achieve “heavy weapons parity” with Russia in the war — calling for more heavy artillery, rocket systems and vehicles.

Admiral Radakin said he was wary of phrases like parity because no single capability would determine the outcome of the war.

The UK is providing MLRS rocket systems and has just delivered 120 armoured fighting vehicles, he said.

Speaking alongside Mr Stoltenberg, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin praised the "historic decision" by Finland and Sweden to apply for Nato membership, expressing his hopes that discussions will continue to progress favourably.

Turkey has clearly voiced its opposition to the Nordic pair’s Nato accession and Stoltenberg has been working hard to try to break the deadlock.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists Finland and Sweden must show more respect for Turkish sensitivities about terrorism. He is refusing to budge over what he says is their alleged support for Kurdish militants.

Updated: June 16, 2022, 12:50 PM