To contain Russia, NATO may set up a rapid-response 'spearhead' force in Eastern Europe

To contain Russia, NATO may set up a rapid-response 'spearhead' force in Eastern Europe
(Image credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

At a high-level summit in Wales this week, NATO's 28 member nations will consider a proposal to create a rapid-response "spearhead" group of 4,000 troops in Eastern Europe, primarily to guard against Russian aggression. The force would be designed to deploy within 48 hours, "so that we are ready should something nasty happen," a senior NATO official tells Britain's The Guardian. Article 5 of NATO's charter pledges mutual defense of member states.

So as not to violate a 1997 agreement with Russia, NATO won't have a substantial permanent force in Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, or other Eastern European nations. Instead, the plan is to stockpile munitions and supplies in those countries, and have a rotating contingent of troops that "can travel light but strike hard if needed," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday.

NATO leaders, including President Obama, are meeting in Wales on Thursday and Friday to discuss the proposal and the situation in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. The strike force wouldn't directly affect Russia's incursions into Ukraine, but Moscow's stealth invasion and annexation of Crimea prompted the proposal, NATO officials say.

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Russian tanks continue to enter Ukraine and engage Ukrainian forces, insist officials in Kiev. Ukraine's defense minister, Valeriy Heletey, said Monday that thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin, "a great war has arrived at our doorstep, the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II."

Russia's Cold War standoff with the West is of course what prompted NATO's creation in the first place. "The really ironic aspect here is that a re-energized, restrengthened NATO is Vladimir Putin's worst nightmare, and yet it's his tactical actions that have done just that," said former NATO commander James G. Stavridis.

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