The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to a significant increase in NATO’s military presence on the Alliance’s eastern flank, including new combat groups in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary.
This allied military reinforcement in the eastern countries belonging to the transatlantic organization had already been launched after Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. The war in Ukraine this year has accelerated the process.
Four new combat groups
The deployment of four new combat groups in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary has been one of the direct and most obvious consequences of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Despite the fact that Russia intended to drive NATO away from its borders, the war has resulted in increased allied military presence near its territorywith battlegroups already covering the entire eastern flank of the Alliance, from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.
Following the model of those established since 2017 in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the new combat groups are composed of several NATO member states, one of which acts as leader.
The main function of these groups is defense and dissuasion. They operate in concert with the national defense forces of the country hosting the battle group and are present at all times in the host state.
The groupings are not identical, but are tailored to the geographic and host nation requirements. The Romanian combat group is led by France, while the one located in Bulgaria is led by Italy and the Slovakian Czech Republic.
Reinforcement of combat groups
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 already prompted a significant reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank with the 2017 deployment of battlegroups to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The invasion of Ukraine has caused an increase in these groups.
The one located in Lithuania is led by Germany, which has already announced its intention to increase its contributions to the group. As for the Estonian combat group, it is led by the United Kingdom, which has increased its contribution this year. In Latvia, it is commanded by Canada and among the participating countries is Spain. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Spanish military presence at the Latvian Adazi base has increased to 600 troops.
“Spain has increased from 350 to almost 600 our troops in the reinforced advanced presence mission, in Latvia, (…) equipping it with some of the most advanced capabilities of our armed forces, such as battle tanks, armored cavalry vehicles, self-propelled artillery, anti-aircraft missiles and surveillance drones”, declared on June 9 at a seminar on NATO the Spanish Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Albares.
Poland’s battalion is led by the United States.
Air policing in the Baltic
NATO has protected the skies of the three Baltic countries since joining the Alliance in 2004, with aircraft and personnel prepared to react quickly if an airspace violation occurs. The air bases for this work of monitoring the Baltic skies are located in Siauliai (Lithuania) and Ämari (Estonia). Currently, Spain contributes to the mission from Lithuania with eight F-18 combat aircraft and 130 soldiers.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO’s eastern air patrols have been beefed up with up to 30 aircraft in the air at any one time. In addition to the Baltics, NATO also supports the supervision of the skies of countries such as Poland, Romania or Bulgaria.
40,000 soldiers under NATO command
Currently, 40,000 military personnel are under direct NATO command in Europe, while The United States has increased the number of soldiers deployed in the Old Continent to 100,000. Alliance members have reinforced the eastern flank with thousands of additional troops since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
In addition, more allied ships have come under NATO command, including US aircraft carriers and helicopter carriers.