Britain will propose to NATO a “large” deployment of troops, warships and warplanes in Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday, seeking to respond to the rise of “Russian hostility” to Ukraine.
The proposal, which is expected to be tabled at a meeting of NATO chiefs of staff next week, if accepted, would double the British contingent of about 1,150 troops currently deployed in Eastern Europe and provide ” defense weapons ”in Estonia, according to Downing Street.
“This package will send a clear message to the Kremlin – we will not tolerate their destabilizing activity and will always stand by our NATO allies in the face of Russian hostility,” the statement said.
“I have ordered our Armed Forces to prepare for the deployment of troops in Europe within the next week so that they can provide ground, air and naval support to our NATO allies,” said Boris Johnson. “If Russian President Vladimir Putin chooses the path of 'bloodshed and destruction' in Ukraine, it will be a tragedy for the whole of Europe,” he added.
“Ukraine must remain free to choose its own future.” The British Prime Minister, who has been under intense political pressure in recent weeks from a series of scandals linked to Downing Street parties during the lockdown, said on Friday that he would call Putin in the coming days to urge him. to “retreat” and engage diplomatically to resolve the crisis with Ukraine.
The head of the British Government is also expected to travel to the area in the coming days. Russia-West relations have plummeted since the end of the Cold War. Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine's border, raising fears of an invasion of its neighbor.
While the Russian government denies any such plans, it insists on receiving written guarantees for Russia's security, including the promise that Ukraine will not join NATO. The British Foreign Secretary is expected to announce on Monday in the House of Commons a tightening of the sanctions regime that will allow the United Kingdom – which is accused of turning a blind eye to the inflow of Russian funds into its territory – to target Moscow's strategic and economic interests.
In an article published Friday in the daily financial newspaper CityAm, Conservative Tory MP Tom Tugentad and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee stressed that the Russian threat comes not only from “tanks” but also from “fluid”. The planned deployment of warships, fighter jets and ground troops will strengthen NATO's defenses and “consolidate UK support for its Nordic and Baltic partners,” the British prime minister's office said in a statement.
Nearly 900 British troops have already been deployed in Estonia and about 100 are in Ukraine as part of a training mission that began in 2015. About 150 troops from a light armor unit are currently in Poland.
The Royal Navy's HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier, based in the Arctic, the head of NATO's Rapid Reaction Squadron, is on alert “if tensions continue to rise,” Downing Street said.
On the diplomatic front, Foreign Minister Lis Trass and Defense Minister Ben Wallace are set to travel to Moscow for talks with their Russian counterparts in the coming days. “They will work to improve relations with President Putin and encourage de-escalation,” Downing Street said.