Boris Johnson is considering offering NATO a deployment of another 900 troops to Estonia – doubling the size of the British force in the Baltic state – as tension continues to mount in the region.
Downing Street has announced that the British Prime Minister is considering the “biggest offer possible” to protect NATO allies in Eastern Europe.
Estonia is a member of NATO – the West’s mutual defense pact – unlike Ukraine, which has been partially surrounded by Russian tanks and around 100,000 troops in recent weeks, sparking speculation about an invasion by Moscow.
Downing Street said Britain could send jets, warships and military specialists to NATO allies in the region in the coming days to bolster Europe’s borders “in the face of rising of Russian aggression.
British officials will be sent to Brussels to discuss the potential offer with NATO next week, with ministers discussing military options on Monday.
A European official described the idea of Western countries increasing their forces in Eastern Europe as a “purely defensive” mechanism to reassure NATO allies, rather than a direct threat to Putin’s Russia. “These are not substantial combat forces, they do not compare to the current constitution of Russia.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has already offered to send hundreds of troops to Romania if requested by NATO, as part of the alliance’s “enhanced forward presence” program to protect its Eastern European members. .
“I know that the security situation is currently worrying on the eastern flank of Europe,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said Thursday in Bucharest, reiterating Macron’s offer. A French military mission arrived in Romania the same day to prepare for the possible deployment.
France and other NATO members have also increased their presence in the Black Sea in recent months. “We are witnessing a policy of refusing access from Russia,” said a French diplomat. “They’re using Crimea as a kind of permanent aircraft carrier.”
Johnson is also looking to speak with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, in the coming days. The Prime Minister, who is at the center of a domestic political storm over “turnout”, is due to visit Eastern Europe next week.
A second trip is scheduled for early February for Johnson to meet fellow NATO members, although the location is yet to be confirmed.
On Monday, Britain’s Foreign Office is expected to announce a toughening of its sanctions regime – to allow the UK to target Russian interests – although officials have yet to release details.
Johnson said the potential deployment of more troops to Estonia would send a “clear message” to the Kremlin.
“We will not tolerate their destabilizing activity and we will always stand with our NATO allies in the face of Russian hostility,” he said.
“If President Putin chooses the path of bloodshed and destruction, it will be a tragedy for Europe. Ukraine must be free to choose its own future.
Downing Street said Johnson still believed in the importance of continuing diplomatic efforts at the same time.
The Prime Minister asked Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to prepare to travel to Moscow for talks with their counterparts. “They will be asked to improve relations with President Putin’s government and encourage de-escalation,” Downing Street said. Wallace will also hold meetings with allies in Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia in the coming week.
Sir Tony Radakin, the Chief of the Defense Staff, will brief cabinet ministers on Tuesday on the situation in Ukraine.
The current British presence in Eastern Europe includes 900 troops in Estonia, 100 in Ukraine and 150 in Poland.
Downing Street said the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales was ready to move “within hours” if needed.
Talks on the situation in Ukraine will take place on Monday at the UN Security Council in New York.