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BRUSSELS — NATO defense ministers are expected to agree next week to set up command units, staffed with national and NATO soldiers, in six Eastern European allies as part of a new strategy in response to the Ukraine crisis, NATO's chief said on Friday.
Creating the units in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the three Baltic countries is one of the most concrete steps NATO has taken to show that the alliance will protect its eastern allies, some of which are nervous about Russian intentions following Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg denied that the creation of the units could be considered provocative by Russia. "It is completely within all our international obligations and what we are doing is defensive and it is proportionate," he told Reuters in an interview.
The posting of small numbers of NATO soldiers at existing bases in eastern European countries falls short of requests by Poland to have a large NATO base on its soil but creates a symbolic NATO presence and would help the alliance to reinforce the countries rapidly in a crisis.
A NATO diplomat said the units were expected to consist of 40-50 people, split roughly equally between soldiers from the host nation and those from other NATO allies. The units will organize exercises and plan for NATO reinforcement if required.