Nato steps up plans to counter Russia’s ‘direct threat’ as US increases military forces in Europe

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports on world leaders from Nato declaring Russia to be a significant threat to their security as they pledged to keep supporting Ukraine

Nato has declared Russia the “most significant and direct threat” to its members’ security, as Joe Biden announced the US will increase its military forces across Europe.

Leaders of the 30 Nato members gathered in Madrid to agree a new plan for the alliance in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The move will mean 300,000 troops at high readiness next year, up from the current level of 40,000.

The alliance has now agreed a new assistance package including communications kit, fuel, medical supplies and body armour, along with counter-mine equipment and anti-drone systems.

The new strategic concept adopted by Nato makes clear that Russia poses “the most significant and direct threat” to security.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (centre), flanked by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (right), and US President Joe Biden. Credit: AP

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the war had brought “the biggest overhaul of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War".

“Today, Nato leaders decided a fundamental shift in our defence and deterrence to respond to a new security reality," he said.

Heavy equipment will be pre-positioned in eastern Nato members along with stockpiles of supplies, while forces from western members will be assigned specific regions on the eastern flank to protect in partnership with local troops. “This is the first time since the Cold War that we have these kind of plans with pre-assigned forces,” Mr Stoltenberg added.

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Saying the US and its allies are "stepping up", Mr Biden announced the stationing of a brigade of 3,000 combat troops in Romania, two squadrons of F-35 fighters in the UK and a permanent US base in Poland.

The US president also said that additional troops would be committed to the Baltic states and station extra air defence systems in Italy and Germany.

“We’re stepping up. We’re proving that Nato is more needed now than it ever has been,” he said.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses a round table meeting via video link during the Nato summit in Madrid. Credit: AP

Despite assurances, the Nato leaders were addressed by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who criticised them for failing to do enough to equip his forces or grant his country membership of the alliance. Speaking via video link from Kyiv, he said Ukraine’s resistance was protecting the Nato members. He asked: “Hasn’t our contribution to defending Europe and the entire civilisation been sufficient? What else is necessary?” But Mr Stoltenberg said: “Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes. “Allies will continue to provide major military and financial help.”

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Boris Johnson said Vladimir Putin had been proved “completely wrong” about the strength of the defence alliance.

As part of the UK’s effort to reinforce Nato’s eastern flank, the British presence in Estonia will be bolstered.

Speaking to reporters in the Spanish capital, the PM said the UK has massively increased its defence budget, although he is under pressure from his defence secretary to do even more on military spending. Just nine of Nato's 30 members currently meet its target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defence.

“It’s been increased massively, the biggest increase since the end of the Cold War, £24 billon more," Mr Johnson said. “In 2021 we were the third-biggest defence spender in the world. Actually, today we’re at 2.3% of GDP (gross domestic product, a measure of the size of the economy), so we’re above the 2% commitment already."

As part of the UK’s effort to reinforce Nato’s eastern flank, the British presence in Estonia will also be bolstered.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK increased its presence in Estonia to include the temporary deployment of a second battlegroup, doubling the total number of deployed personnel to over 1,600.

Further troops will be allocated to the Baltic region, bringing the total to the equivalent of a brigade – although these troops will be held at readiness rather than necessarily deployed to Estonia.

Earlier in the day, Mr Johnson met the leaders of Sweden and Finland to congratulate them on moving a step closer to Nato membership after Turkey dropped its objections. On Wednesday, the two countries were formally invited to join the military alliance.

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