NATO chief: 4 battalions to Eastern Europe amid tensions with Russia

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Story highlights

  • NATO to move to deploy about 4,000 multinational troops to Poland and the Baltic states
  • The deployment has long been sought by NATO's Eastern European members

Washington (CNN)NATO announced Monday that the alliance will deploy four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, as tensions with Russia remain high in the wake of Moscow's intervention in Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg discussed the deployment at a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, prior to this week's gathering of alliance defense ministers.
    "This will send a clear signal that NATO stands ready to defend any ally," Stoltenberg said.
    NATO's easternmost members, including Poland and the Baltic states, have long sought the increased presence of NATO troops in their respective countries, a request driven in part by Russia's 2014 military intervention and annexation of Crimea and because of Moscow's backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
    In May, while appearing at a press conference with Stoltenberg, Polish President Andrzej Duda called the proposed deployment of multinational forces to Poland "of crucial importance."
    The deployment has been under discussion for some time and will be formally approved at the NATO summit in Warsaw in July.
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    Each of the battalions is expected to consist of up to 1,000 soldiers. Germany, the UK and the U.S. are expected to lead three of the battalions, while the leadership of the fourth battalion has yet to be determined.
    Stoltenberg also highlighted other actions the alliance was taking to boost its ability to respond to external threats, including pre-positioning military equipment further east and tripling the size of the 40,000-strong NATO response force.
    In February, the U.S. Department of Defense announced it was spending $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative in an effort to deter Russian aggression against NATO allies. That initiative will include the prepositioning of equipment in the Baltic States, Poland and Central Europe.
    Poland and Estonia are two of only five NATO members that meet the alliance's recommended level of defense spending, which is 2% of GDP. A NATO official told CNN in April that Latvia and Lithuania are projected to also meet the NATO 2% target in their 2017-2018 budgets.
    This month, NATO members conducted a new exercise, Anaconda-16, in Poland, an effort that included some 31,000 troops from Poland, the U.S. and 17 other NATO member nations. It's the biggest training exercise to take place in Poland since the end of the Cold War.
    "Our defense and deterrence does not rely on just four battalions. These are part of a much bigger shift in our posture, in response to the challenges we face," Stoltenberg said.