Because of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, NATO wants to put “well over 300,000 soldiers” on increased readiness. This was announced by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday in Brussels. According to him, the heads of state and government of the 30 NATO countries want to decide this at the alliance summit in Madrid on Wednesday and Thursday.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, NATO had put around 40,000 soldiers from its rapid reaction force (NATO Response Force, NRF) on alert. According to diplomats, these troops under NATO command are now to be supplemented by operational forces in the member countries, so that the military leadership can have a total of more than 300,000 forces at their disposal.
In addition, the multinational battlegroups in the east of the alliance are to be increased. Stoltenberg spoke of the “biggest realignment of our collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War”.
A model that Germany had proposed to its allies is intended to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank. The Bundeswehr could therefore take over the leadership of a “combat brigade” in Lithuania with around 1,500 soldiers, but this is not always present. The forces would be deployed at times to the eastern flank for joint training sessions with Lithuanian soldiers.
Similar brigades are also to be set up in the other Baltic States – according to Stoltenberg, probably also in Poland. These brigades – units of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers – could complement the multinational combat units currently in place. For a good five years, Germany has been the leading nation of a so-called battle group in Lithuania with a total of around 1,600 soldiers, a thousand of whom come from the Bundeswehr.
Actually, the planned expansion to include the EU states of Finland and Sweden should be celebrated at the NATO summit in Madrid. But Turkey puts a spoke in the wheel. As a NATO member, Ankara is blocking the two Nordic countries’ applications for membership. In particular, it accuses them of granting protection to members of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Sweden and Finland want to seek talks with Turkey on Tuesday before the start of the NATO summit. Stoltenberg is also expected to attend the meeting between Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and his Turkish colleague Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The NATO Secretary General said the defense alliance now hopes that Finland and Sweden will join “as soon as possible”.