Two weeks before the Madrid summit, it is now becoming clear in which direction things are heading.
NATO’s plans for permanent reinforcement of the eastern flank are becoming more concrete about two weeks before the summit in Madrid. According to Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday, a decision will be taken in the Spanish capital at the end of June to bolster existing multinational battle groups with additional combat units and expand air, maritime and cyber defense.
In addition, there are plans for the creation of structures that will allow forces on the ground to be reinforced even more quickly in the event of a concrete threat. According to Stoltenberg, it is planned to increase the level of preparedness of troops and prepare certain armed forces specifically for the defense of individual countries.
Presence of German troops in Lithuania should be expanded
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) announced last week that Germany would continue to expand its troop presence in Lithuania. In the country bordering the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the Bundeswehr is already involved with more than 1,000 troops in securing NATO’s eastern flank. According to information from government media, a multinational brigade of several thousand soldiers could be kept ready for the defense of Lithuania in the future, although it is likely that only part of it will be permanently stationed in the country.
“I welcome Germany’s intention to step up its involvement in Lithuania,” Stoltenberg said ahead of a preparatory summit of defense ministers in Brussels. Other allies also considered what else they could do. Britain is discussing a stronger presence in Estonia and Denmark and other allies have also signaled their willingness to expand their presence in the East.
Brigade-sized battle groups
On the question of the size of future NATO battle groups for eastern member states, Stoltenberg said he expected brigade-sized formations. According to him, these can consist of troops that are on the ground, but also troops that are ready in other alliance states for emergencies. In NATO, brigades usually have between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers.
The three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in particular, have been pushing for significantly greater support from allies since the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine. Also, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are counted among the eastern flank states. There are now multinational NATO battle groups in all eight countries. Before Russia’s attack on Ukraine, they only existed in the Baltic States and Poland.
Support for Ukraine another topic
In addition to planning for the eastern flank, continued NATO support for Ukraine will also be an issue at the summit. The alliance also invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a guest to the Madrid meeting for talks, as Stoltenberg announced on Wednesday. According to him, however, it is still unclear whether Zelenskyy will actually arrive or be connected from his office in Kyiv. “He is welcome to come in person. If that is not possible for him, he will speak to us via video conference,” Stoltenberg said.
Specifically, Ukraine can expect from the summit, among other things, a commitment from NATO to further help with the shift to Western weapons systems. Stoltenberg said he hoped the Allies would agree on a comprehensive support package. This should also ease the transition from Soviet-era equipment to modern NATO equipment and interoperability with the Western military alliance. So far, Ukraine attacked by Russia mainly uses equipment that was developed in the era of the former Soviet Union. This also makes it difficult for the West to provide supplies of weapons and ammunition.