Exclusive: Full-scale Nato military force to defend borders
Nato is drawing up plans to deploy a full-scale military force on its border in an effort to combat future Russian aggression following the invasion of Ukraine, the alliance’s secretary general has revealed.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Jens Stoltenberg said Nato was “in the midst of a very fundamental transformation” that will reflect “the long-term consequences” of Vladimir Putin’s actions.
As part of a major “reset”, the relatively small “tripwire” presence on the alliance’s eastern flank will be replaced with sufficient forces to repel an attempted invasion of member states such as Estonia and Latvia. Options for the reset are being developed by Nato military commanders.
The disclosure came as Boris Johnson made an unexpected visit to Kyiv to hold talks with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president. The Prime Minister used the visit, which was planned in secrecy, to announce that Britain was sending anti-ship missiles and 120 armoured vehicles in the latest batch of military assistance.
On Saturday night, Mr Johnson said: “Ukraine has defied the odds and pushed back Russian forces from the gates of Kyiv, achieving the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century.”
In a joint television appearance with Mr Zelensky, he added: “I think that the Ukrainians have shown the courage of a lion, and you Volodymyr have given the roar of that lion.
“Having been here in Kyiv for just a few hours, I have no doubt at all that an independent sovereign Ukraine will rise again thanks above all to the heroism, the courage of the people of Ukraine.”
Only half a dozen Downing Street staff are understood to have known about Mr Johnson’s visit before the Ukrainian embassy tweeted a picture of the Prime Minister holding talks with Mr Zelensky – such was the level of secrecy adopted for security reasons.
Mr Stoltenberg urged other countries to emulate Britain’s support for Ukraine, as he signalled agreement with Mr Zelensky’s view that nations such as Germany were making a false distinction between “defensive” weapons they were willing to supply to Kyiv, and “offensive” weapons that they see as a red line.
He also revealed that the threat from China would be enshrined into Nato’s “strategic concept”, its formal strategy document, for the first time, as Beijing and Moscow appeared to be “working more and more closely together”.
Amid pressure by some Conservative MPs and ministers for increased defence spending in the UK, Mr Stoltenberg said that he would “welcome” more military expenditure from Britain. But his focus was on ensuring other Nato allies met the alliance’s minimum requirement of 2 per cent expenditure as a share of their GDP.
Setting out plans for the “reset” of Nato, Mr Stoltenberg pointed out that it now already had 40,000 troops under its direct command in the eastern part of the alliance – nearly 10 times the number it had a few months before the invasion.
But he added: “What we see now is a new reality, a new normal for European security. Therefore, we have now asked our military commanders to provide options for what we call a reset, a longer-term adaptation of Nato. I expect that Nato leaders will make decisions on this when they meet in Madrid at the Nato summit in June.”
Before Feb 24, Nato’s presence on its eastern border with Russia amounted to a so-called “tripwire” force, which was intended to signal the alliance’s intent to defend itself from an attack.
In the event of an attack on countries such as Latvia and Estonia, which border Russia, reinforcements would have been called in from across the alliance. But now Nato is preparing to have a presence on its eastern flank of a scale that could itself defend the alliance against a Russian attack.
Last month Britain said it would double its troops in Eastern Europe and send a new deployment to Bulgaria, when Nato leaders agreed to further strengthen the alliance’s eastern flank against Russian aggression. But Mr Stoltenberg’s remarks reveal that the alliance is preparing to go further still.
Appearing to reject the claim by some countries that “offensive” weapons should not be provided to Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia, Mr Stoltenberg said: “Everything Ukraine does with different types of weapons is defensive, it is about defending themselves against the atrocities, against the invasion, against a brutal use of military force against their own country.”
As well as the additional military support for Ukraine, Mr. Johnson said the UK would guarantee an additional $500 million (£385 million) in World Bank lending to the country, taking Britain’s total loan guarantee to $1 billion.