TBILISI, DFWatch–NATO is ramping up its defense of Eastern Europe with a new expeditionary force that will be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed”.
Also planned are five new bases in the Baltic states, Poland and Romania, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
The alliance also plans to hold more exercises inside Georgia, on Russia’s southern border.
Russia has been opposed to Georgia’s NATO membership from the start, as it sees it as part of a confinement strategy by Western powers, which outnumber Russia military and would get a foothold for its weapons systems only five hundred kilometers of Moscow, if Ukraine succeeds in its recently announced bid to join the alliance.
Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership was announced by Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniyuk and came amid a war against separatists that NATO claims are provided support by Russia, which Russia denies. The war in Ukraine’s Donbass region has claimed over 2,500 lives so far, according to the United Nations, and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee.
The new NATO Rapid Reaction Force is a measure to reassure NATO’s member states in Russia’s neighborhood, and Rasmussen highlighted the new situation that the world is in now, following the events in the Ukraine war.
The new plan would see the creation of a rapid reaction force of between 4,000 and 10,000 that could be deployed within “a very few days”, Rasmussen said at a briefing three days before NATO countries meet in Wales to agree on its new strategy. The force is meant as a first ‘spearhead’ and would be followed by other larger forces in the event of a crisis.
Some NATO members have been circumspect with granting Georgia membership, because almost 20% of its territory is currently ruled by breakaway statelets that are propped up by Russia. Aspiring member states should not have any unsolved territorial disputes.
At the 2008 summit in Bucharest, member countries could not reach agreement on offering Georgia a membership action plan (MAP), but committed to the goal of accepting the country as a member some time in the future. At the 2012 summit in Chicago, the promise was reaffirmed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this year that NATO will not offer Georgia a MAP this time either. Rasmussen later said a ‘substantial package’ would be offered instead, that will bring it closer to the alliance.
At Monday’s briefing in Brussels, he specified the details of the package.
“The Georgia package will definitely bring Georgia closer to NATO,” Rasmussen said. “We will establish what we call a defense capacity building mission in Georgia with a particular focus on the Ministry of Defense and assist Georgia in continued reforms and modernization of the defense and security sector.”
The next step, he said, will be efforts of the alliance to improve ability of Georgia’s armed forces to operate together with NATO forces and this includes Georgia’s more participation in NATO-led exercises.
He also said military exercises might also be organized in Georgia with a view to engage NATO partners in such exercises.
“There might also be a regional dimension in such a training center. And finally we also are considering an expansion of the NATO liaison office in Tbilisi.”