NATO seeks to expand, boost military force in E. Europe

NATO to establish a 5,000 troop-'Spearhead Force' ready to deploy within days, says NATO Secretary General

NATO to establish a 5,000 troop-'Spearhead Force' ready to deploy within days, says NATO Secretary General

BRUSSELS – NATO defense ministers are meeting to discuss more than doubling the organization's troop numbers and bolstering the military alliance's present in eastern Europe.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of the defense ministers' meeting in Brussels on Thursday that NATO was seeking to increase its current response force from 13,000 to 30,000 troops. 

Part of the enhanced NATO Response Force would be the establishment of a 5,000-strong "Spearhead Force" with the capacity to deploy troops within days. 

''This Spearhead Force will have some lead elements which will be able to deploy within a very, very, short notice … we are speaking about a few days,'' Stoltenberg said.

- 'Aggressive actions'

NATO is also looking to establish command centers in six east European countries including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, in the coming months as part of the Spearhead Force in what Stoltenberg said was a response to Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine.

''So this is something we do it as a response to the aggressive actions we have seen of Russia violating international law and annexing Crimea,'' Stoltenberg stated.

His comments contrasted with Russia's accusations that the U.S. and EU have deliberately destabilised Ukraine in order to expand the west's military presence in eastern Europe through NATO.

NATO has accused Russia of providing pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine with military equipment - allegations Russia denies, while other observers have said U.S. troops are involved in clandestine operations in the region.

- Cooperation 'suspended

Stoltenberg will meet Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at an annual security conference in Munich between Feb.6 and 8.

Stoltenberg added: ''(NATO) we decided last April after the crisis in Crimea that we suspended, NATO suspended, all practical cooperation with Russia."

"But we decided to keep channels for political contact open. And my meeting with Lavrov is part of this decision to maintain channels for political dialogue.''

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