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NATO reinforces eastern flank presence in the face of Russian threat

Zelensky calls for more military and financial assistance from alliance members
PHOTO/AFP  -   El secretario general de la OTAN, Jens Stoltenberg

PHOTO/AFP  -   NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

The NATO summit in Madrid will mark a turning point in the history of the military alliance and the Euro-Atlantic region. On the first day of the meeting, described by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as "historic and transformational", important decisions have already been taken that will reshape the future of the alliance in the years ahead.

Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine has provoked a strong and united response from NATO. The war has strengthened the alliance and even prompted Finland and Sweden - traditionally neutral countries - to apply for NATO membership in the face of the threat posed by Moscow. 

PHOTO/NATO SUMMIT  -   El secretario general de la OTAN, Jens Stoltenberg, auspicia la firma del memorando tripartito entre el presidente turco, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, el presidente finlandés, Sauli Niinistö, y la primera ministra sueca Magdalena Andersson por el que Turquía aprueba la solicitud de adhesión de Suecia y Finlandia en la Alianza Atlántica, Cumbre de la OTAN en Madrid, 29 de junio de 2022
PHOTO/NATO SUMMIT - NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hosts the signing of the tripartite memorandum between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson approving Turkey's application for membership of Sweden and Finland in the Atlantic Alliance, NATO Summit in Madrid, 29 June 2022.

According to the new strategic concept, Russia represents "the most significant and direct threat to the security of the allies and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area". For this reason, and in order to protect its eastern flank following Russia's aggression in Ukraine, NATO has agreed to reinforce its defensive presence in the region with more troops and military equipment, such as aircraft, ships and air defences.

Poland hosts the largest number of allied troops, 11,600, followed by Romania with 4,500 and Latvia with 4,000. In the Baltic States, Poland, Slovakia and Romania, NATO has also deployed air defence systems to counter any aggression. Spain has been one of the countries that has sent this type of defensive weaponry. The Spanish Ministry of Defence has deployed a NASAMS-type air defence unit (UDAA) in Latvia "as a sign of its commitment to NATO", according to a statement from the Ministry. 

"I would like to take the opportunity to thank Spain, also for the latest news; last week it sent one of its anti-aircraft missile systems and we needed it," Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks told the EFE news agency during an interview.

Moreover, as Stoltenberg announced at a press conference in Madrid, the summit will transform "NATO's force response" and increase "to more than 300,000 high-readiness forces". The alliance's rapid response force currently numbers 40,000 units. "We will also enhance our surge capacity in crisis and conflict situations," he added.

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PHOTO/FILE - NATO has agreed to strengthen its defence presence in Eastern Europe.

In addition to NATO's troop build-up in the east, the United States will increase its military presence across the European continent. US President Joe Biden has announced that it will strengthen its bases in Spain, Poland, Romania, the UK, Germany and the Baltic states. "The United States will intensify its defence posture in Europe and respond to threats coming from all directions and in all areas - land, air and sea," said Biden, who pledged to protect "every inch" of the alliance. 

Zelensky to NATO: Who will be Russia's next victim?

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky has addressed NATO members virtually, calling for more military and financial assistance and "a strong response to Russia's actions". 

Zelensky warned that Russia will not stop at Donbas. "It wants to take over all the territories in Europe that it considers its property. This is Russia's real goal," he said. In this regard, the Ukrainian leader wondered which country would be next to suffer an invasion. " Moldova? the Baltic countries? Poland?, the answer: all of them," he said. 

During his speech, the Ukrainian president also expressed confidence that he would be able to attend the next NATO summit in person next year. If this does not happen, "we will have failed", said Zelensky. 

The mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, who has travelled to Madrid to attend the historic summit, has, like Zelensky, called for more defence weapons from the alliance. "Please don't stop supporting us," the former boxer asked.