Nato is to increase its forces on high alert by more than sevenfold in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as part of a sweeping overhaul to better protect its eastern flank.

In a historic shift from the post-cold war era, when military spending was cut and troops pulled back from eastern Europe, secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels the western alliance would also increase deployments close to Russia, shifting the focus from deterring any invasion to a full defence of allied territory.

The pledge to increase the number of troops on high alert from 40,000 to 300,000 across allied countries came as G7 leaders vowed to impose new sanctions to curb Moscow’s import of technology for its arms industry, amid efforts by western countries to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking before the announcement, Stoltenberg told the Financial Times that the new military blueprint would drastically upgrade its eastern defences, tearing up a model that could have meant relinquishing and then attempting to recapture the Baltic states in the event of a Russian invasion.

Estonia’s prime minister has claimed that the current doctrine accepted that the Baltic states would be “wiped off the map” in the event of a Russian assault before Nato attempted a counter-attack to liberate them after 180 days.

“We never share the details of operational plans,” Stoltenberg said. “But I can assure you that we have been able to protect countries bordering Russia for decades, adjusting our presence in light of the threat assessment. We have done that before and we will do it again.”

The alliance would “significantly reinforce” its defences in eastern Europe, he said, pledging that Russia would not be able to capture the Estonian capital Tallinn “just as they have not been able to seize the city of Kirkenes in northern Norway or West Berlin during the cold war”.

The new “strategic concept”, to be signed off at an annual summit of alliance leaders that begins on Tuesday in Madrid, would define its goals and approaches for the next decade, and agree on a vastly expanded plan to defend its easternmost allies in response to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

That will include new structures in which western Nato allies, such as the US, UK and France, would pledge their ships, warplanes and a total of more than 300,000 troops to be ready to deploy to specific territories on the alliance’s eastern flank, with graded response times starting from the opening hours of any attack.

That would significantly upgrade the current model, where Nato has about 40,000 troops in its quick reaction force.

The new approach, which returns to elements of Nato’s cold war planning for potential Soviet invasion, would allow the alliance’s military commanders to know in advance, at any moment in time, exactly which forces are on standby and how quickly they could enter the battlefield.

Russia would be designated as “the most direct and immediate threat to our security”, Stoltenberg said.

The summit comes as Moscow ramps up the tension with increasing threats against Lithuania over freight shipments to the exclave of Kaliningrad, a flashpoint long identified by Nato as a potential trigger for wider tension in the region.

Stoltenberg said he was wary of speculating whether Russia’s threats were aimed at disrupting the Nato summit or just a coincidence, but the sabre-rattling “reminds us of something we are very much aware of”.

“Whether it happens just before, just after or long after a Nato summit, it doesn’t change the reality,” he said. “We have to be prepared.”

Nato’s existing defence posture in the Baltics involves about 8,000 deployed foreign troops — led by the UK, Canada and Germany — to deter any possible invasion and act as a so-called tripwire in the event of one. Nato officials agree that the approach is now untenable in light of the scale of Putin’s attack on Ukraine.

Stoltenberg said Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas’s comments regarding the defence of her country “reflect her concerns”, adding that he had discussed “exactly these issues” with her and the leaders of Lithuania and Latvia.

“They’ve been under Soviet rule for decades. They have a history where they have actually learned the hard way what it means to be occupied and invaded,” Stoltenberg said. “I accept [Kallas] wants more Nato presence and I can promise her . . . more presence.”

Stoltenberg continued: “Our main responsibility is to prevent any attack on Estonia or any other ally.

“That’s why we will take huge and important decisions at the summit to further increase our collective defence . . . to defend every inch of Nato territory as we’ve done for 72 years.”



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