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NATO to send ‘combat-ready’ battalions near Russian border

Tanks move during the Polish-led multinational exercise Anakonda 2016 at the training ground Drawsko Pomorskie, northwestern Poland, June 4. (Marcin Bielecki/European Pressphoto Agency)
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BRUSSELS — NATO defense ministers have agreed to send 4,000 troops to Poland and the Baltic States, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced here Tuesday, a decision that will likely rankle an increasingly aggressive Russia.

The same day of NATO’s announcement, Russia was set to begin a week-long series of snap readiness drills to ensure its troops were ready to mobilize in the event of a conflict. Russia’s drills come as dozens of NATO countries are participating in the largest military exercise in Poland since the end of the Cold War.

U.S., NATO countries begin largest military exercise in eastern Europe since Cold War

The plans to deploy the rotational force have been in motion since earlier this year. The troop contingent, composed of four battalions from the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States and one other country that hasn’t been announced will deploy throughout Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland sometime in 2017.

Poland and the Baltic States have called for an increased NATO presence in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its actions in eastern Ukraine.

Following the announcement of additional troops deploying to the Baltic region, Stoltenberg also said that the alliance was exploring the possibility of allowing Romania to helm a multinational brigade within its borders to provide better security on the resource-rich Black Sea.

“I welcome the commitments made by many allies today to contribute,” Stoltenberg told reporters following the announcements.

The additional NATO troops are just one more element to a growing number of deterrence measures announced at the Wales Summit in 2014 and fully implemented in recent weeks, according to Stoltenberg. Those measures, including a 40,000 strong reaction force and a spearhead task force that is capable of reacting to hot spots in a matter of days.

NATO’s forces, combined with a bolstered U.S. presence, are part of U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter’s new “NATO playbook,” which is meant to shift the posture of the alliance from “reassurance to deterrence.”

[NATO considering thousands of troops near Russia’s border]

Stoltenberg echoed Carter’s oft-repeated remarks, indicating that the alliance doesn’t want “a new Cold War” with Russia, but noting that the new NATO battalions headed to the Russian border would be “combat ready” and that “strong deterrence is the best way to prevent a war.”

Stoltenberg also added that the defense ministers had agreed to recognize cyber attacks like any other attack on the physical battlefield, noting that the change would encourage other countries in the alliance to bolster their virtual defenses.

“This is important to all possible conflicts we can foresee,” Stoltenberg said, adding that almost all modern conflicts involve a cyber component. Stoltenberg did not single out any one country as a specific cyber threat.

Russia has made cyber warfare a key component of its current operations, namely in eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists there have used electronic, cyber and disinformation campaigns to wage what is called “hybrid warfare,” an atypical approach to conflict that uses domestic unrest to help achieve tactical gains on the battlefield.

NATO’s announcements Tuesday have laid some of the framework for the coming Warsaw Summit in July where world leaders are expected to approve additional measures to deter Russia.