NATO deploys a response force for the first time

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday the alliance was deploying its rapid reaction force for the first time ever to bolster defenses against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s still a fluid situation. What we’ve seen is that Ukrainian forces are fighting bravely and are actually able to inflict damage on invading Russian forces,” Stoltenberg said after a video summit NATO leaders.

“It’s a full invasion of Ukraine. They’re heading towards Kiev and the stated goal is to change the government of Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg warned that the Kremlin’s aggression had created a “new normal”, threatening Europe’s wider security beyond non-NATO Ukraine.

“We have already strengthened our deterrence and defense,” Stoltenberg said.

“Yesterday, the allies activated our defense plans and as a result we are deploying elements of the NATO Response Force (NRF) on land, at sea and in the air to further strengthen our posture and respond quickly to any eventuality.”

The move is the latest by NATO aimed at bolstering its defenses after US-led allies rushed thousands of troops towards eastern members as the Kremlin moved towards Ukraine.

“We have over 100 jets on high alert, operating in over 30 different locations and over 120 ships from the Far North to the Mediterranean,” Stoltenberg said.

“It’s about keeping the peace, preventing an attack and preventing the war in Ukraine from spreading to any NATO allied country.”

He gave no details on where the response forces were being sent, saying it depended on NATO’s highest military commander.

Established in 2003, the NRF is made up of 40,000 personnel and includes an 8,000-strong high-readiness contingent with air, sea and special operations soldiers that can be deployed within days.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States currently has troops in Europe, plus 7,000 troops who were ordered to deploy to Germany this week, and more in waiting at home.

He said which troops and how many depended on specific NATO requirements.

“Whatever those demands … the United States is prepared to lean forward as much as possible,” Kirby said.

He stressed that the NRF should protect NATO countries, not engage in fighting in Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance.

However, he said, the trigger for the NRF’s activation “was this illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

“We are going to do what we have to do to defend every square inch of NATO territory.” he added.

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