NATO plans to increase its troop deployment along its eastern flank in response to Russian military aggression in Ukraine. Moscow has said it will respond in kind, with deployments that could outnumber NATO 10-1.
Tensions are increasing between NATO and Russia as both sides move to increase troop deployments in Eastern Europe.
The tit-for-tat troop escalation comes as NATO's new supreme allied commander in Europe (SACEUR) begins his three-year-term.
"In today's challenging security environment, trans-Atlantic cooperation is needed more than ever," US General Curtis Scaparrotti said after taking over command from US General Philip Breedlove at NATO headquarters in Belgium.
"Even with the end of the Cold War, our NATO alliance [...] remains vital as we face a new set of challenges," he added, identifying one of them as "a resurgent Russia, striving to project itself as a world power."
Russian military forces annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Moscow has since supported a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine. The ongoing conflict has killed about 10,000 people, most of them civilians, according to the United Nations.
Moscow's military aggression has alarmed some of its former satellite states, particularly the Baltic nations (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and Poland.
In response, NATO has agreed to deploy four "battalion-sized" multinational units on a rotational basis along its eastern flank, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Each battalion could comprise up to 1,000 soldiers.
Andrei Kelin, a department head at Russia's Foreign Ministry, has slammed the proposed NATO deployment, saying the Kremlin would be forced to respond.
"This [NATO deployment] would be a very dangerous buildup of armed forces pretty close to our borders," Kelin told the Interfax news agency. "I am afraid this would require certain retaliatory measures, which the Russian Defense Ministry is already talking about."
Moscow is considering sending three battalions of its own - each Russian battalion is home to 10,000 soldiers. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the new divisions would be formed by the end of the year.
"The Ministry of Defense has adopted a series of measures to counter the growing capacity of NATO forces in close proximity to the Russian borders," Shoigu said in televised comments on Wednesday.
The new divisions are expected to be deployed in military districts close to Russia's borders with Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states and Finland as well as Georgia and Azerbaijan.
NATO's secretary general has maintained that deployment was in response to Russian aggression.
"What we do is defensive, it's proportionate [...] And therefore we will continue to respond," said Stoltenberg on Wednesday. "There can be no doubt that what NATO does is a reaction to the Russian behavior in Ukraine. We didn't have any troops in Baltic countries [...] before the illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia's destabilizing activities in eastern Ukraine."
bik/cmk (Reuters, dpa)