Russia was rattled by NATO’s growing military presence in eastern European countries. The Western military alliance is also carrying out extensive exercises in eastern Europe to deter any Russian aggression. And now British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has announced that the UK will be sending a “small number” of troops to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.
Britain reassures NATO allies
Fallon said at least 100 British soldiers will be sent to eastern European countries while another 25 will be in Ukraine for a training mission. British troops in the Baltic region will deter Russian aggression beyond Ukraine and reassure NATO allies in light of increased tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Fallon is in Brussels for a quarterly meeting of NATO defense ministers.
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The British military personnel will join American and German troops already there. They will participate in a NATO evaluation, training, and capability-building mission already underway in eastern European states. Notably, NATO cannot permanently station troops in the former Soviet states as part of an agreement signed with Russia after the end of Cold War.
Russia to see it ‘as a provocation’
The British military presence in the region will be “persistent” instead of permanent. Sources told BBC that British troops will be in the Baltic region 90% of the time. In June, the UK scrambled RAAF Typhoons from Estonia to intercept two Russian fighter jets over the Baltic Sea. Western countries have expressed deep concerns over Russia’s backing of separatists in Ukraine and the recent air strikes in Syria.
Such a small deployment shouldn’t alarm Russia, but it may irritate President Vladimir Putin. Former British ambassador to Russia, Sir Andrew Wood, says Putin would see Britain’s latest move “as a provocation.” Talking about the conflict in Syria, Fallon said Russia is making the already complicated situation more dangerous.
Russia insists that its air strikes in Syria target ISIS militants and “other terrorists.” But Western countries have accused it of mainly targeting CIA-trained rebels.