Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture in Eastern Europe over the past several years led NATO to respond in kind, primarily by standing up four new multi national combat brigades that would be deployed to the eastern-most sectors of the alliance. Now, all four of those brigades have become fully operational.
The battle groups are stationed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The Canadian-led battle group based at Camp Ādaži in Latvia became the fourth to complete NATO’s Certification Exercise.
The groups form a strategically important core of forces designed to give the Kremlin pause before launching any invasions of the Baltic states, especially, or to blunt any invasion should one occur. There is concern among NATO officials that President Vladimir Putin might at some point use the same justification to invade those states as he used to invade Georgia, retake the Crimea, and provide assistance to “rebel” factions inside Ukraine: Because Moscow acted to protest sizeable ethnic Russian populations within those countries. The three Baltic states, which were part of the former Soviet Union; Latvia and Estonia have large Russian minorities (about a quarter of the population in each), while the Russian minority is much smaller in Lithuania (about 6 percent). Also, Kaliningrad, which is Russian soil, is situated on the Black Sea wedged between Poland and Lithuania.
The four battle groups consist of about 4,500 troops in total. In addition to these forces, NATO has also bolstered its quick-reaction force to 40,000 troops. NATO is also strengthening its multinational presence in the Black Sea region, based around a Romanian-led multi-national framework brigade.
Why it’s on our radar: In April 2016, reports surfaced that the Pentagon was moving a brigade’s worth of U.S. troops (about 4,500 in number) along with hundreds of tanks to NATO’s perimeter with Russia, the first such deployment of U.S. troops since the end of the Cold War. Again, aggressive moves by Putin were cited as the reason to redeploy a combat brigade and more U.S. armor as a deterrent. The redeployment of U.S. troops was also done to allay concerns among NATO allies, in particular, the Baltic states, that Washington’s commitment to the alliance and its mutual defense pact was not wavering. The additional NATO brigade sends a clear message to Putin that any further designs on eastern Europe will come at a high cost
The additional NATO battle groups, by comparison, send a clear message to Washington that NATO remains functional, cohesive, and committed to Europe’s defense. These additional forces should give Putin pause.