- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A multinational naval force is expected to depart for the Baltic Sea from Germany within days as part of a NATO military contingent intended to counter Russian provocation in the Ukraine.

The force was among additional military measures approved Wednesday in Brussels by representatives of the alliance as a way to ease the concerns of Ukraine’s Eastern European neighbors.

NATO officials said they intend to enhance their air, ground and naval presence in the area. But details of what those defense enhancements would entail were slow to emerge.

Lt. Col. Jay Janzen, spokesman for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, said the naval force would be comprised of ships from various parts of the world, not necessarily Eastern Europe. Speaking by telephone from his office in Belgium on Wednesday evening, Lt. Col. Janzen declined to give a projected date on which the ships would arrive in the Baltic Sea but said the transport would likely take just a couple days.

Individual allied members will take the lead on announcing which ships they will be contributing to the naval force, Lt. Col. Janzen said.

“I think you’ll see, in the next day or so, nations coming out and providing ship X and ship Y to the maritime [fleet],” he said.

NATO officials are still hashing together the fine details of the piecemeal plan, after having been mulling over the framework for that plan for the past five days.

The Washington Times reported Monday that NATO’s 28 ambassadors and its military committee had access to an options report developed by Supreme Allied Commander Europe Air Gen. Philip Breedlove prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

Some alliance members obtained a copy of that plan on Friday while others received the plan on Monday, according to NATO officials.

The report contained an array of air, land and naval options that NATO can tap to support those Eastern European allies who are concerned that Russian forces amassing along the Ukraine border are a threat to their sovereignty.

NATO’s highest decision-making body met Wednesday to discuss the military options outlined in the report. After that meeting, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance had agreed on a package of military measures that would further reinforce NATO’s collective defense while showing solidarity among ally members.

Lt. Col. Janzen said NATO is “prudently shifting some assets” to protect alliance members but at a pace that is deliberately slow so as not to appear provocative and further escalate tension with Russia.

“The measures taken today are really about deterrence and about defense and also about reassuring the allies on Europe’s eastern flank that NATO will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them,” he said.

NATO’s Eastern European allies will also receive additional air support next month, when the alliance expands the scope of its Baltic Air Policing mission, Lt. Col. Janzen said. Normally, the mission consists of four aircraft that fly solely out of Lithuania.

In May, that mission will consist of 12 aircraft flying out of two locations in Eastern Europe: Šiauliai, Lithuania and Ämari Air Base in Estonia, according to Lt. Col. Janzen.

• Maggie Ybarra can be reached at mybarra@washingtontimes.com.

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