Nato to deploy extra troops to alliance nations in eastern Europe

Forces not being sent to Ukraine itself to avoid ‘existential’ war with Russia, say UK ministers

Nato will deploy significant extra troops to countries in eastern Europe which are part of the alliance, but UK ministers warned there would be no forces going to Ukraine itself to avoid an “existential” war between Russia and the west.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary general, chaired a virtual summit of 30 leaders on Friday, where the agreement was made to amass forces in eastern Europe.

“No one should be fooled by the Russian government’s barrage of lies,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “We are now making significant additional defensive deployments of forces to the eastern part of the alliance.”

Stoltenberg said Russia’s invasion was “the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades”. “Russia has shattered peace in Europe. The people of Ukraine are fighting for their freedom in the face of Russia’s unprovoked invasion. We deplore the tragic loss of life, enormous human suffering and destruction.”

James Heappey, a UK defence minister, earlier said the UK would send further armed forces to Estonia “earlier than planned” to reinforce the Nato ally. The Royal Welsh battlegroup will be arriving in the country to double force levels.

Heappey also revealed that a total of 1,000 UK troops were on standby to support Ukraine’s neighbours with refugee responses. “The 1,000 troops that are on standby are there to support Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Poland with the expected humanitarian challenges that they will face as people make their way out of Ukraine,” he said.

However, Heappey also warned against any potential meeting between Russian and Nato troops, saying it could become “existential”.

Speaking in parliament, he said: “We must all in this house be clear that British and Nato troops should not, must not, play an active role in Ukraine. We must all be clear what the risk of miscalculation could be and how existential that could very quickly become if people miscalculate and things escalate unnecessarily.”

During the debate, Heappey was pressed by MPs to support a no-fly zone across Ukraine, which he rejected because of the risk of Nato forces encountering Russian ones.

In an earlier exchange on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, the Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko pleaded with Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, for the UK and the US to close airspace above Ukraine “in order for these casualties not to escalate”. However, Wallace said this would constitute a direct act of aggression towards Russia, which would prompt a response and result in “war across Europe”, as any attack on the UK would implicate all other Nato members.

Wallace said: “To do a no-fly zone I would have to put British fighter jets against Russian; Nato would have to declare war on Russia.” He added: “I cannot and won’t trigger a European war but I will help Ukraine fight every street with every piece of equipment we can support them.”

Wallace said the UK had supported accelerating Ukraine’s Nato membership, which would have triggered military intervention from fellow members, but that other countries had been concerned by the pace.

He added that other democratic countries had a “moral duty” to continue to arm the Ukrainian forces since it was widely acknowledged that Putin “won’t stop at Ukraine” and would proceed to train his sights on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as he “doesn’t believe the Baltic states are countries”.

He told Sky News: “What you’re seeing on your cameras today is illogical. Putin didn’t need to do this, he didn’t need to occupy a sovereign country. None of the reasons why he would do that stack up. He’s not doing something that’s logical, he’s doing something about his ego and his legacy.”

As the EU and UK decided to bring in sanctions against Vladmir Putin, the Russian president, and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, Boris Johnson and allies from the Joint Expeditionary Force alliance including Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands agreed on the need to go further after a meeting on Thursday morning.

Downing Street said the leaders “agreed that more sanctions were needed, including focusing on President Putin’s inner circle, building on the measures that had already been agreed”. It said Johnson had made clear to Nato allies that the UK “stood ready for any further request from Nato’s supreme allied commander Europe to go further with military support to Nato from UK armed forces”.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has said he believes “further financial restrictions” against Russia are needed. He said if Johnson brought forward tougher sanctions on Russia, they would be voted through parliament “very, very quickly” with Labour’s support.

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, briefed MPs on the prospect of further sanctions next week and also summoned the Belarus ambassador to London, Maxim Yermalovich, to the Foreign Office. He was told members of its ruling elite would be sanctioned as a result of their role in facilitating the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

James Cleverly, the Europe minister, said afterwards: “The UK condemns the role Belarus is playing in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Belarus must stop supporting Russia’s illegal and unprovoked actions.”


Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Britain to commit 1,000 extra troops to Nato’s defence of Estonia
Downing Street said it is almost doubling UK commitment to military support for Ukraine with additional £1bn

Dan Sabbagh and Peter Walker in Madrid

29, Jun, 2022 @4:04 PM

Article image
UK deploys hundreds of troops and aircraft to eastern Europe
UK joins biggest post-cold war buildup of Nato forces as Russian military engages in series of high-profile manoeuvres

Kevin Rawlinson and Ewen MacAskill

27, Oct, 2016 @12:10 AM

Article image
UK and Nato allies consider US request to send more troops to eastern Europe
Reinforcements sought for Nato’s eastern flank as Russian forces mass on Ukrainian border

Dan Sabbagh Defence and security editor

26, Jan, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
Nato to put 300,000 troops on high alert in response to Russia threat
Alliance’s leader predicts this week’s summit will agree its most significant transformation in a generation

Dan Sabbagh Defence and security editor

27, Jun, 2022 @3:05 PM

Article image
David Cameron presses for Nato force in eastern Europe – video

Opening the second day of the Nato summit in Newport, the prime minister says he hopes to agree on a 'multinational spearhead force'

05, Sep, 2014 @12:44 PM

Article image
Nato needs permanent force in eastern Europe to deter Russia, says Estonia
Europe and North Atlantic alliance could never return to the world it knew before the Ukraine invasion, says Jonatan Vseviov

Julian Borger in Washington

23, Mar, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Western war aims are growing. But how much more will Nato commit to Ukraine?
While the west toughens its stance over Putin’s invasion, it is rejecting his foreign minister’s claim that Nato is in a proxy war with Russia

Dan Sabbagh Defence and security editor

27, Apr, 2022 @7:19 PM

Article image
Nato to bolster defences of Baltic states amid Ukraine crisis
Cameron says British army will help beef up defences in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia to deter possible Russian aggression

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

24, Mar, 2014 @1:29 PM

Article image
Eastern Europe needs permanent Nato troops, say ex-US policymakers
Report by two former policy chiefs urging move to guard against Russian threat could raise tensions with Moscow

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

21, Jun, 2016 @5:02 PM

Article image
Nato summit: US says it will deploy 1,000 extra troops to Poland
Barack Obama announces stationing of forces to bolster eastern flank of Nato, one of four new battalions, at Warsaw meeting

Julian Borger in Warsaw

08, Jul, 2016 @1:59 PM