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NATO readies fresh eastern flank defenses

NATO is preparing to place more weapons and troops along its eastern border as Russia’s war inflames nearby Ukraine, the military alliance chief said Wednesday, previewing a major upcoming summit.

Leaders will gather in Madrid later this month to sign off on a host of key decisions, including how to increase the alliance’s presence in the east and better support Ukraine. 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said allies are exploring a model that would place more equipment in countries along NATO’s eastern border while rotating through additional troops.

“We will have a combination of different things,” he told reporters at a press conference.

While allies agree that there should be a greater NATO presence in eastern flank countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, there have been internal debates on how to best position forces in the region. While some eastern allies have called for the permanent presence of NATO troops in their countries, others have preferred a more rotational, flexible approach. 

The alliance will have “more NATO forward-deployed combat formations to strengthen our battlegroups in the east,” the secretary-general said, adding that there would also be more “pre-positioned equipment and weapon stockpiles.”

Yet for the first time since the Cold War, he noted, the alliance will have “pre-assigned forces to specific countries in the east, linked to our defense plans.”

Germany has already indicated it will make more troops available for protecting Lithuania under this model, placing equipment and command elements in the country and earmarking a German brigade for Lithuania’s defense without permanently stationing it there.

“It will be a combination of more forward presence and more pre-assigned forces,” Stoltenberg said of Germany’s plan. 

Other allies are expected to make similar offers, according to the NATO chief. 

“The United Kingdom has indicated and they are now discussing what kind of increased presence they can have in Estonia, but I also expect that to be significant,” Stoltenberg said.

Other countries, such as Spain and Denmark, “have also announced readiness to increase their presence as part of a bigger NATO buildup, especially in the east,” he added.

Stoltenberg said leaders in Madrid are also expected to green-light a new assistance package for Ukraine, which has been clamoring for more advanced weapons and equipment from NATO allies. 

The package would focus on “helping Ukraine for the longer term, to transition from Soviet-era equipment to modern NATO equipment, and to improve interoperability with NATO,” the secretary-general said. 

NATO leaders will also hear about Kyiv’s concerns directly. 

“President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy will be invited to the NATO Summit in Madrid,” Stoltenberg said. The alliance’s leaders “are extremely committed to supporting Ukraine.”  

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