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Minister: Czech troops could join NATO forces in Baltics this year

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Prague, Feb 21 (CTK) – The Czech Republic may send about one hundred soldiers to the allied forces that will be deployed in the Baltics and eastern Europe within the reinforcement of NATO’s military presence in the region, Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky told public Czech Television (CT) on Sunday.

If the NATO plan develops according to the schedule, the Czech soldiers are likely to join the allied forces in the second half of the year, Stropnicky said.

In reaction to the steps Russia took in Ukraine, NATO decided to reinforce the protection of its eastern wing with a new rapid response force of 5000 troops and set up six new headquarters. The task of the six new commands, based in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, is to develop the rapid response force, plan joint defence and coordinate exercises.

NATO Military Committee chief Petr Pavel told CT that the military presence on the territory of the eastern allies does is not meant to be a military threat to Russia. Its aim is to show the unity of the allied partners, he said.

Pavel, former Czech chief-of-staff, said the small units that would form about one brigade are no military threat for Russia.

Stropnicky said he believes Russia does not want a larger conflict either. NATO needs to show its readiness, however, he said.

Pavel said NATO has agreed to reinforce its presence on the territory of its eastern members, work out emergency plans for these countries and adopt measures to be ready to react to unpredictable events in the region.

“If this is a broader plan of NATO, I can see no reason to stand aside for us,” Czech MEP Jan Zahradil (opposition Civic Democrats, ODS) told CT.

Zahradil said he believes the military presence will help stop Russia and not increase tension. The interest of the Czech Republic should be to keep Russia as far from the Czech border as possible, using all political means, he said.

Stropnicky said the Ukrainian political representation produced not very impressive results. Ukraine lost a lot of time in the last few years and it has got into serious trouble, which is something Russian strategists may want to take advantage of, he said.

Stropnicky said Moscow might be tempted to get hold of the stabilisation process in Ukraine and create a puppet regime that would get the situation under control. This path would be bad for Ukraine, he added.

The Baltic states and Poland seek a permanent military presence of allied troops on their territories.

Stropnicky said Bulgaria and Romania felt threatened as well. “There is a lot of violation of airspace and territorial waters,” he said, referring to the two countries.

The United States announced that it would move heavy equipment for a U.S. unit equivalent to a brigade in the six above states (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania) in mid-2016.

The plans for the reinforced military presence in Central and Eastern Europe should be completed at a NATO summit that will be held in Warsaw in July. Some member countries oppose the permanent military presence in the region, arguing that it would further worsen relations with Moscow and that the mission would be financially demanding.

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