NATO is set to launch a new multinational force in Romania on Monday to counter Russia along its eastern flank and to check a growing Russian presence in the Black Sea following the Kremlin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.
Initially a small force relying on troops from 10 NATO countries including Italy, Canada as well as Romania, the land, air and sea deployments will complement about 900 U.S. troops already in place.
”Our purpose is peace, not war,“ Romanian President Klaus Iohannis told the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Bucharest. ”We are not a threat for Russia. “But we need dialogue from a strong position of defense and discouragement.”
Russia accuses NATO of trying to encircle it and threatening stability in Eastern Europe, which NATO denies. Around the Black Sea, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey are NATO members while Georgia and Ukraine aspire to join.
The NATO force aims to develop its allied presence in the Black Sea region, rich in oil and gas, without escalating tensions, as it seeks to counter Russia’s own plans to create what military analysts say is a “buffer zone”.
The 2008 Russian operation to put troops in Georgia’s South Ossetia’s region, its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and its annexation of Crimea have raised the stakes, with all sides warning of a new, Cold-War style scenario.
Details of the new force size were unclear. Based inland at a base near the southern Romanian city of Craiova, the land component of the force involves a brigade-size multinational NATO force, typically some 3,000 to 4,000 troops, but the contribution of non-Romanian troops is modest.
Aside from Romania, Poland is the biggest troop contributor. Bulgaria, Italy and Portugal will train regularly with the force in Craiova, and Germany is also expected to contribute.
In additional to existing NATO Black Sea naval patrols, a maritime presence will include more allied visits to Romanian and Bulgarian ports, training and exercises.
NATO air forces will also be limited at first but Britain is deploying fighter planes to Romania. Canada is already patrolling Romanian air space along with national pilots. Italy is patrolling Bulgarian air space.
“It sends a signal of NATO’s resolve,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who will visit the troops later on Monday, stressing that NATO also had a 40,000-strong response force in case of a conflict.