NATO alliance leaders have agreed to create a rapid response force to address the threat of aggression from Russia. The force will include several thousand troops with the capability of deploying in a just a few days.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the formation of the rapid response force Friday saying it will allow NATO to "maintain a continuous presence... in eastern parts of the alliance on a rotational basis," in the face of aggression from Russia. The announcement comes on the second day of a NATO summit in the Welsh city Newport.
Rasmussen said the force will include land and sea assets, as well as several thousand ground troops ready to deploy within just a few days. He added the alliance will also establish command and control facilities in the eastern part of the alliance's territory.
NATO has accused Russia of orchestrating the crisis in eastern Ukraine, a claim the Kremlin has consistently denied.
Earlier on Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron - host to the summit - said the UK was prepared to "contribute 3,500 personnel" to the force.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference that the alliance stands by the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 and that it remains a key part of Europe's security architecture. Cooperation was suspended in March after Russia seized and annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
The rapid response force is also meant to show that NATO is prepared for new threats, especially in light of gains by "Islamic State" militants in Iraq and Syria.
No third party veto
Rasmussen also said that no third country could have a veto over its enlargement policy and took new steps to advance former Soviet republic, Georgia, towards membership.
The steps include agreeing on a package of measures to boost Georgia's defense capabilities and advance the country's preparations to join the alliance, he said. In 2008, Russia and Georgia fought a brief war after NATO agreed in principle that it and Ukraine would one day become members.
"NATO's door remains open. Each country will be judged on its merits," Rassmussen said.
The NATO summit also comes amid peace talks in Minsk, Belarus. The highly anticipated talks involve representatives from Russia, Ukraine, pro-Moscow rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The talks are aimed at achieving a ceasefire to bring an end to the months of fighting between Kyiv forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Top NATO officials were expected to announce further sanctions against Moscow if the talks in Minsk prove fruitless.
hc/nm (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)