NATO reinforces its eastern flank in response to Ukraine invasion

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to a significant increase in NATO’s military presence on the Alliance’s eastern flank, including new combat groups in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Such allied military reinforcement in eastern countries belonging to the transatlantic organization had already been put in place following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. The war in Ukraine this year has accelerated the process.

The deployment of four additional battle groups in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary has been one of the direct and most obvious consequences of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite Russia’s intention to keep NATO away from its borders, the conflict has resulted in an increased allied military presence close to its territory, with battle groups now covering the entire eastern flank of the Alliance, from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

Modeled on those established since 2017 in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the new battlegroups are composed of several NATO member states, one of which serves as the leader.

The main function of these groupings is deterrence. They operate in concert with the national defense forces of the country hosting the battle group and are present at all times in the host state.

The battlegroups are not identical, but are tailored to the geographical and host nation requirements. The battlegroup in Romania is led by France, while the one in Bulgaria is led by Italy and the one in Slovakia by the Czech Republic.

The one located in Lithuania is led by Germany, which has already announced its intention to increase its contributions to the grouping. The battle group in Estonia is led by the United Kingdom, which has increased its contribution this year. In Latvia, it is led by Canada.

The Polish battle group is led by the United States.

Air police

NATO has been protecting the skies over the three Baltic countries since joining the alliance in 2004, with aircraft and personnel ready to react quickly in the event of airspace violations. The air bases for this monitoring of the Baltic skies are located in Siauliai (Lithuania) and Ämari (Estonia).

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, air patrols in the east of NATO have been reinforced with up to 30 aircraft in the air at the same time. In addition to the Baltics, NATO also supports the monitoring of the skies over countries such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

At present, 40,000 military personnel are under direct NATO command in Europe, while the United States has increased the number of soldiers deployed in Europe to 100,000. Alliance members have reinforced the eastern flank with thousands of additional military personnel since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

In addition, more allied ships have come under NATO command, including U.S. aircraft carriers and helicopter carriers from other countries.

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