Britain Sends 100 Troops to Baltics to Deter 'Russian Aggression'

British Troops Baltic
Britain's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon (front L) listens to British military instructors during his visit to a military shooting range near Zhytomyr, Ukraine, August 11, 2015. Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Around 100 British troops will be deployed to the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the U.K. Ministry of Defence told national broadcaster BBC on Thursday.

According to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, the troops will be sent to the tiny former Soviet republics in a bid to deter the spread of "Russian aggression" beyond the territory of Ukraine, where 25 servicemen will also be sent as military advisers to Ukraine's armed forces.

Fallon called the deployment of British troops "further reassurance for our allies... for NATO, for the Baltic states and for Poland."

NATO already has facilities in place in the Baltics, such as the Air Policing mission, the headquarters of which is rotated between the three countries. NATO allies outside the Baltics have sent temporary deployments to the bases since 2004, also on a rotational basis. The British Royal Air Force Lossiemouth 6 Squadron returned in August after a four-month deployment in the Baltics.

Fallon said that the new deployment of troops was part of a move to establish a "more persistent presence by NATO forces" to respond to "any further Russian provocation and aggression" in the region.

According to the BBC, the defence secretary is planning to say at a NATO meeting in Brussels later on Thursday: "We are committed to supporting the sovereignty of the democratic nations of Eastern Europe. We are already deploying RAF jets to the Baltics and providing crucial training to the Ukrainian armed forces. Now we will have a more regular drumbeat of troops deploying in the Baltics and Poland."

Although Ukraine is not a NATO member, allies have run several training events alongside Ukraine's armed forces, with the goal of assisting the Ukrainian military in its modernisation and reform programme.

NATO is currently undergoing its biggest reinforcement since the end of the Cold War, which largely focuses on improving defences and emergency responses on its eastern flank, from the Baltics, through Poland, to the Balkans.

Russian officials have repeatedly referred to moves by NATO allies to reinforce their eastern borders as "aggression" and "provocation."

In February, Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defence, told reporters that NATO's reinforcement would "inform Russia's subsequent military planning."

"This plan is in and of itself very disturbing, because it is about raising NATO capabilities on our borders. The so-called plan to reinforce the eastern flank of NATO is nothing other than an increase in the battle readiness of the alliance," Lukashevich added.

The Baltic countries have been among those on highest alert in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, as Russian air force activity near and in their skies has increased rapidly, prompting an all time high rate of interceptions by the Baltic Air Police.

In February, Baltic defence experts from Estonia's International Centre for Defence and Security warned that a Russian snap drill could quickly turn into an assault on one or several Baltic capitals.