Britain to send 1,000 troops to lead new Nato ‘spearhead’ force based in Poland amid growing threat from Russia

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  • The UK will contribute a quarter of the troops for the rapid reaction unit
  • David Cameron said it would allow ‘rapid reinforcement’ in event of invasion
  • Accused Putin of ‘ripping up the rule book’ over military incursion in Ukraine 
  • Comes after last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called for US-Russia talks
  • The former USSR leader is credited with helping to end the Cold War
  • He cautioned that the West must not try to give Ukraine membership of Nato
  • He spoke as heavy fighting in Ukraine continued, with Mariupol under siege 

By
Tom McTague, Deputy Political Editor for MailOnline
and Ted Thornhill


Published:
07:50 GMT, 5 September 2014

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Updated:
12:03 GMT, 5 September 2014

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Britain will send 1,000 troops to lead a new 4,000-strong Nato ‘spearhead’ force headquartered in eastern Europe, it was confirmed today.

David Cameron said the new multinational brigade based in Poland would ‘reassure’ eastern European allies that the threat from Russia was being taken seriously.

The Prime Minister said the ‘reformed Nato response force’ would allow more exercises and ‘if necessary, rapid reinforcement’ if there was an invasion.

David Cameron, left, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (right) today outlined plans for a rapid reaction force to be based in Poland

He accused Russia of ‘ripping up the rule book’ with its military invasion of parts of eastern Ukraine.

Mr Cameron said: ‘Our great alliance must now evolve and refocus on the new capabilities that we need to keep our people safe.

‘As Russia tramples illegally over Ukraine, we must reassure our eastern European members that we will always uphold our article five commitments to collective self-defence.’

Mr Cameron told other Nato leaders: ‘We must be able to act more swiftly. I hope that today we can agree a multinational spearhead force deployable anywhere in the world in just two to five days.’

Government sources said the unit would be able to deploy a ‘spearhead group’ within 48 hours to reinforce the Baltic states in the event of a Russian invasion, followed by reinforcements.

But Nato officials said it could also be used anywhere else in the world.

The new force is aimed at meeting criticism that Nato is too slow and unwieldy and increasingly irrelevant in the modern world. Nato hopes the main components of the new force will be in place by the end of the year.

Cameron, speaking at the start of the Friday session alongside Barack Obama and other leaders, said Nato ‘must increase [its] capacity’.

The 1,000-strong British contribution is to try to speed up the formation of the rapid-reaction force, which will be staffed on a rotational basis with troops from other Nato countries.

Mr Cameron also revealed 3,500 troops would be engaged in exercises in the Baltics and elsewhere in eastern Europe in a show of strength.

Nato has a 1997 treaty with Russia that forbids permanent bases in the Baltic states. It is getting round this by holding permanent exercises in a bid to reassure the Baltic governments.

Air bases in the Baltics are being modernised and heavy equipment being put in place in readiness.

Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic states are members of Nato and any action against them would draw in other member states.

The Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: ‘Nato remains ready for the defence of all allies against any threat. We have to ensure we have the right forces and the right equipment in place for as long as required …. Nato always rises to every challenge, we stand ready to act together.’ 

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Ukrainian army soldiers go to the front line on an armoured vehicle as pro-Russian separatists fire heavy artillery on the outskirts of the key southeastern port city of Mariupol

Morale is up: A pro-Ukrainian volunteer of the paramilitary Azov battalion makes a victory sign

It came as the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev – the man who ended the Cold War – demanded that Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama urgently overcome difficulties in their personal relationship and heal the wounds in Ukraine ‘if we do not want to kill the world where all of us now live’.

Mr Gorbachev today warned both men of their responsibility amid fears that their mutual animosity is stoking the serious conflict in eastern Europe.

And he cautioned the West to immediately halt what he sees as incendiary moves to pull Ukraine under Nato’s umbrella.

‘It is spoken that the current radicalisation is mainly a result of the personal relations between presidents Putin and Obama which are ‘not shaping well’,’ said Gorbachev, who changed the world after forging strong working relations with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher across the ideological divide.

‘To me such a way of thinking is a huge mistake.

‘We do not choose our partners and if our relations do not ‘shape’, we have a duty as leaders, a responsibility for our citizens and the whole world, and we should step over personal matters and stand for the interests of our nations.’

He warned that ‘for the sake of peace in Ukraine, in Europe and in the whole world, it is essential to resume the dialogue between Russia and the USA.’

This was ‘their role and responsibility’ and they must set aside differences and start talking.

‘It is inevitable if we do not want to kill the world where all of us now live.

Formidable: A Ukrainian armoured column heads to Mariupol on Friday

Armour: A Ukrainian army vehicle drives to the front line at Mariupol on a day that could see a ceasefire agreed

Message: Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, pictured at his 80th birthday celebrations in London’s Albert Hall in 2011, has demanded that Obama and Putin put their differences aside

‘I am calling not to lose time – it is the most important thing now,’ he said in an extract of his new book ‘After the Kremlin’ published today in Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

‘Global nuclear conflict used to be the challenge. It was possible to move this danger away – but the problem of nuclear arms, the danger of a new arms race is still a hot topic.’

For future security it was vital to mend relations between Russia and Ukraine, the current state of which causes him ‘heavy pain’.

‘I want to hope so much that the fever in Ukraine will stop, that the country will find a way to peace and improvement of the life of all its citizens,’ he said.

‘The West should understand this too. Its leaders should stop their attempts to drag Ukraine into Nato, because such attempts would bring nothing but disturbance in relations between Ukraine and Russia.’

He warned: ‘The Ukrainian crisis has caused a serious and dangerous deterioration of the relations between Russia and the West.

‘It all reminds us about the years of the Cold War.

‘We hear the statements that the Cold War is back and some are convinced that it never stopped.

‘Are we doomed to the new round of global confrontation? I am stating that both parties – Russian and Western countries – have declared that they do not want a new Cold War.’

He claimed ‘not everything is lost yet’ but it was vital to unfreeze US-Russian relations and stop ‘the joint escalation of sanctions’ which harms both sides.

Meanwhile, intense shelling by pro-Russian ‘rebels’ was underway early today ahead of talks in Minsk aimed at a ceasefire in the bloody Ukrainian conflict.

Kiev claims that Vladimir Putin’s forces were strengthening on the Crimean border with mainland Ukraine and close to the frontier in Rostov region.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said he obtained pledges of precision weapons from Western leaders at the Nato summit in Wales, a move likely to infuriate Moscow.

‘Almost every country stated its assistance to Ukraine. First and foremost, this concerns military and technical cooperation, both non-lethal and lethal weapons, including precision guidance weapons,’ he said.

Ukraine believes the Russian army is behind the ‘rebel’ shelling today on the outskirts of Mariupol, a strategic port on what is seen as a possible land route for Putin to supply Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed in March.

A commander of a Ukrainian volunteer militia in the city told Reuters: ‘We were under fire all night but we are still keeping the rebels at bay. They are facing us with tanks and artillery.’

Pro-Russian separatists told the Interfax news agency that about 50 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed or wounded in fighting near Mariupol on Thursday and three had been taken captive. The report could not be independently confirmed. 

Attacks were also reported ion Ukrainian positions in Lugansk.

‘The enemy keeps concentrating troops in the north of Crimea,’ warned Kiev military analyst Dmytro Tymchuk.

‘Army helicopters are arriving at the airport in Dzhankoi town.

‘Within the last 24 hours we registered the movement of motorised battalions and artillery groups out of Crimea via the Kerch ferry route.

‘We suppose they are heading to Ukrainian border in Rostov region of Russia.’

He stressed: ‘While the Kremlin is going on about its ‘plan for peace’ and fighting continues in Donbas, the Russians are busy deploying ever more new units to Ukraine. A substantial reserve force is on standby.

A wounded Ukrainian army soldier is evacuated by a medical team as pro-Russian separatists fire heavy artillery near Mariupol

Heavy weapons: Ukrainian army tanks at a checkpoint near Mariupol

‘One thing is clear – Moscow certainly does not look in the mood for peace talks.’

Nevertheless, representatives from Ukraine, the pro-Russian rebel leadership, Russia and Europe’s OSCE security watchdog are expected to meet in the Belarussian capital Minsk later on Friday to agree a ceasefire to pave the way for implementation of a ‘stage-by-stage peace plan’.

However, few in eastern Ukraine, wearied by nearly six months of conflict, have much hope that a ceasefire can hold.

‘I would not be a decent human being if I say I am not for the ceasefire, but all these bandits and mercenaries and (Russian) invaders must be kicked out of Ukraine never to return,’ said Anatoly, a pensioner in his 70s, in Mariupol.

A Ukrainian soldier who gave his name as Mykola said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko would ‘betray the country’ if he backed a peace plan at this time.

‘If he goes for a peace plan, then all these dead and wounded and exiled and all the homes burned and jobs lost and money lost, it was all for nothing,’ he said.

‘We must defeat them and then talk peace.’

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Friday the West would push ahead with sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine but said these could be lifted should a proposed ceasefire take hold.

He said, however, that he had ‘great scepticism’ about Putin’s ceasefire offer.

Hammond also told BBC TV that Britain had made no commitment to take part in any air strikes against Islamic State jihadists in Iraq, but was still considering the possibility of military action.

The news follows Russia banning confectionary imports from two Ukrainian firms, Konti and AVK, according to Russia’s consumer watchdog.

Rospotrebnadzor said in a statement that both companies had violated the law on consumer rights protection.

Epi-V, specialist investors in oil and gas services, said that Western sanctions on Russia will have a huge impact on Russia’s fracking capability.

John Hutchinson, senior partner at Epi-V, said: ‘International sanctions will have a significant effect on Russia’s fracking capability. Russia has very large estimated shale oil reserves and needs Western technology to extract them effectively. 

‘Russia has been actively fracking for hydrocarbons generally for a few years and Western companies have been key in making that happen. A Western embargo on access to technology and the skilled people who can deploy it will be a setback and it’s hard to see a way round it.’

 

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