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NATO looks at combat readiness after Russian ‘aggression’

NATO is drawing up plans to ensure its members can respond more quickly to crises in the aftermath of Russia’s “aggression” in Ukraine, the alliance’s chief said Monday.

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the transatlantic alliance would review a proposed readiness “action plan” at an upcoming summit in September in Britain and also predicted European members were poised to reverse a long decline in military spending dating back to the Cold War.

“Obviously Russia’s aggression against Ukraine will put a lot of emphasis on the need for a strong, collective defense,” Rasmussen said during a visit to the US capital.

“That’s why at the summit I hope we will adopt a readiness action plan which will improve our ability to respond swiftly,” he told an audience at a Washington think tank, the Atlantic Council.

“We are looking closely at how we deploy our forces for defense and deterrence. What combination of forces we need. Where they should be deployed. And their readiness,” he said.

Rasmussen said the proposal would enable NATO to respond to a range of threats and crises, not only on the borders of Eastern European states but across the Middle East and North Africa.

The plan would examine pre-positioning equipment, intelligence sharing and early-warning procedures, as well as bolstering a NATO rapid response unit and special forces, he said.

“We are also developing a new exercise schedule, adapted to the new security environment,” the former Danish prime minister said.

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March, which Moscow claimed was meant to safeguard Russian speakers there, took Western countries by surprise and triggered punitive economic sanctions against Moscow.

Rasmussen said a “revisionist” Russia had dealt a “dangerous blow” to the international legal order built over decades. NATO needs to rally around its democratic principles while renewing its commitment to transatlantic ties, in both economic and military terms, he added.

“NATO is an insurance policy against instability. All members must pay their premiums. And that premium has just gone up,” he said.

At the NATO summit in September, Rasmussen said he expected members to “turn the corner” on years of shrinking military budgets.

“At our summit in Wales, I expect all alliance leaders to commit to change course on defense spending.

His comments came as tensions spiked in Ukraine, with Kiev’s security forces forcing the retreat of pro-Russian insurgents to the eastern city of Donetsk, and the United States and France urging President Vladimir Putin to press the rebels to hold truce talks.

— Countering Russia’s ‘hybrid warfare’ —

The NATO chief warned that Europe had become overly reliant on Russia’s oil and gas and said “putting an end to that dependency is now of the utmost strategic importance.”

He added: “We have burned our way into a position of dependence. And as we see in Ukraine, Russia is quite capable of turning off the taps.”

In a question and answer session, Rasmussen said Russia’s intervention in Ukraine had combined traditional military methods as well as covert operations and psychological operations.

The proposed readiness plan would address the tactics employed by Moscow in Ukraine as “it is necessary to be able to counter such hybrid warfare,” he said.

He also promised NATO would “step up cooperation” with all of its Eastern European neighbors and to use alliance military expertise to improve those countries’ armies.

Rasmussen said he believed the initiative should include assistance to Ukraine’s military but it was unclear if NATO states would endorse such a move.

“Personally I hope that our initiative could also apply to Ukraine, but we will see,” he said.

“It’s clear to everybody, the Ukrainian armed forces need modernization and further capability development.”