UK to lead 'high readiness' Nato force, Michael Fallon says

RAF Typhoon Image copyright Cpl Phil Major (RAF)
Image caption The UK will deploy four RAF Typhoon jets for "air policing" in the Baltic states

The UK will play a lead role in a "high readiness" Nato force that will be established in Eastern Europe, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has announced.

Britain will send up to 1,000 troops and four RAF Typhoon jets for "air policing" in the region, he said.

The multinational force is the biggest reinforcement of Nato's collective defence since the end of the Cold War.

BBC correspondent Jonathan Marcus said the move aimed to deter a perceived Russian threat to the Baltic states.

It comes as French and German leaders headed to the Ukrainian capital Kiev to try to negotiate an end to escalating fighting in the east of the country.

Mr Fallon said Nato's credibility in the face of the security challenges depended on "everyone playing their part" to implement decisions taken to bolster its forces at a summit of member states in Wales last year.

"Strong words must be backed up with firm action," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen have been discussing the new Nato force

Nato defence ministers have gathered in Brussels to discuss the details of the "Very High Readiness Joint Task Force" (VJTF), which will form Nato's first response in the face of aggression.

It is expected to be made up of about 5,000 troops from Nato countries, with its lead units able to deploy at two days' notice.

The UK will be the force's lead nation in 2017 and then on rotation thereafter, Mr Fallon said.

He said the UK would contribute manpower to two regional headquarters in Poland and Romania, and to force integration units in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

The UK will also send four RAF Typhoon jets to support the Nato's Baltic air policing mission in 2015, he confirmed.

The Typhoons will operate alongside Norwegian aircraft between May and August 2015, with the aim of securing Nato's airspace over Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, which do not have their own air defence fighters.

They will operate at Nato's request from Amari Airbase in Estonia, he said.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus said the move was aimed to reassure Nato countries in eastern Europe and deter what is perceived as a potential Russian threat to the Baltic republics or other Nato members.

He said it was also a signal that the alliance's political leaders and military planners now see Russia's seizure of the Crimea and military forays into eastern Ukraine as much more than just a temporary crisis between Moscow and the West.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine began last April, when separatists seized government buildings after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Nato secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg has said that Russia continues to violate international law as fighting continues in Ukraine.

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