In Brief

Russia hits out at biggest US military build-up in Europe since Cold War

Poland welcomes thousands of American troops, but Donald Trump's election puts Nato mission in doubt

Nato fires warning shot at Donald Trump

14 November

Nato has warned US president-elect Donald Trump that going it alone is not an option for Europe or the United States.

Writing in The Observer, secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said the West is facing the greatest security challenge of a generation. Acknowledging that some member states need to make bigger financial contributions, he said: "In these uncertain times we need strong American leadership and we need Europeans to shoulder their fair share of the burden."

He added: "It is all too easy to take the freedoms, security and prosperity we enjoy for granted."

During his election campaign, Trump repeatedly attacked the military alliance and said the US would think twice about coming to the aid of an ally that had not paid its dues. The US currently accounts for roughly 70 per cent of Nato spending.

The BBC's Paul Adams says that what some at the time saw as the musings of a candidate not expected to win are now being seen almost as an existential threat to the alliance.

Stoltenberg's comments have also been interpreted as a shot across the bows of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has raised the possibility of a European defence force.

Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, described the idea as "a folie de grandeur, like other things the EU has done which has caused it to face its current existential crisis".

He added: "It is frankly crackers. But it is illustrative of the weird and narcissistic world in which [Junker] operates."

France and Germany are planning to unveil plans for closer military integration in the EU in next few weeks, says The Observer.

Yesterday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-standing critic of Nato, called for Western leaders to demilitarise the border between Russia and Eastern Europe or risk a new Cold War.

Nato announced last week it had put 300,000 troops on high alert due to increasing tensions between Russia and the Baltic states. Last month, the alliance said it was preparing to station 4,000 troops on the Russian border in what The Independent called "its biggest military build-up since the Cold War".

Nato puts 300,000 troops on high alert amid tensions with Russia

8 November

Nato has put an estimated 300,000 troops on high alert as tensions with Russia increase.

Speaking to The Times, secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance hopes to speed up the deployment of troops from six to two months in response to "a more assertive Russia implementing a substantial military build-up over many years".

While Nato member states have drastically cut their defence budgets and military investment since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has been bolstering its military capabilities. It has tripled defence spending since 2000 in real terms, developed new military capabilities and used military force against its neighbours.

"We are responding with the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War," said Stoltenberg.

While Stoltenberg refused to be drawn on the specific number of troops being put on alert, the UK's outgoing Nato representative, Sir Adam Thomson, said it was likely to be around 300,000.

He added that Nato is having to respond to an increase in espionage, hybrid warfare, cyber attacks and propaganda by Russia and other non-Nato states.

The alliance's response "is in part a result of Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, as well as a bid to reassure ex-Soviet states like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - all Nato members who fear Moscow could try a similar tactic again", says The Independent.

It was reported last month that Nato was preparing to station 4,000 troops, including some from the UK, on the border between Russia and the Baltic states in its biggest military build-up since the Cold War.

However, a US think-tank said it believes Russia could overrun Nato's current military force in the Baltic states in a matter of hours.

Relations between Russia and the West have worsened in the last year, "with Moscow's insistence on backing its Syrian ally, President Bashar al-Assad, at all costs leading to serious tension with the US, Britain and France", says the Daily Mail.

A recent poll found nearly half of Russians fear Moscow's intervention in Syria could lead to World War III.

Russia vs Nato: Is there a risk of World War III?

28 October

The UK will send fighter jets to Romania next year while the United States has promised troops, tanks and artillery to Poland in Nato's biggest military build-up on Russian borders since the Cold War.

The news follows this week's "storm in the petrol pump", as the BBC's Jonathan Marcus put it, when Russia withdrew a request to refuel three warships in Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta after Defence Secretary Michael Fallon claimed they were on their way "to bomb Syrian civilians in Aleppo".

Nato's tensions with Russia have escalated since the annexation of Crimea and the West's decision to impose retaliatory sanctions, prompting speculation about a new Cold War.

Roland Oliphant, the Moscow correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, says: "There are still one or two who say 'cold war' is an exaggeration. But the general consensus is that is has started".

Are we headed for World War III?

Relations may have reached a new low, but there is a sense neither side truly wants a full-scale conflict.

A recent informal lunch between US and Russian participants concluded the best the two countries could hope to achieve over the next five to eight years was the establishment of rules to avoid any inadvertent escalation, similar to the years of detente, reports Bloomberg.

"One of many reasons why the new Cold War is different from the old is the extreme asymmetry in conventional forces, with the US and its allies stronger that they used to be, and Russia much weaker than the former Soviet Union," says Andrey Kortunov, a Russian security analyst.

But, he adds, Russia will continue reminding the West of the one area in which it has parity: its nuclear arsenal.

"The possibility of war is definitely there, which could be triggered by minor mistakes," said Sergei Karaganov, a senior Russian foreign policy advisor. "The current situation is just like that in the 1960s, when the world was on the brink of war."

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus has also warned the Syrian conflict has put the world "on the brink of the beginning of a large regional or global war", with the US and Russia on opposing sides.

"If this proxy war continues, after this, let me be clear, America and Russia will come to a point of war," he said last week.

How did we get here?

The current conflict can be traced back to the end of the first Cold War and Nato's continued expansion following the fall of the USSR, analysts say.

Paul R Pillar, a senior fellow at the Centre for Security Studies at Georgetown University, in Washington DC, and a former senior CIA officer, says the initial fault lies with the West.

"The West did not treat Russia as a nation that had shaken off Soviet Communism," he said. "Russia was regarded as the successor state of the USSR, inheriting its status as the principal focus of Western distrust."

But Russia's policies since the end of the Cold War have also done little to ingratiate the nation to the outside world, he told the BBC.

For instance, President Vladimir Putin paraded the country's new nuclear arsenal days after he suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium, signalling he was willing to use nuclear disarmament as a new bargaining chip in disputes with the US.

Why hundreds of British troops are heading to Eastern Europe

8 July

Several hundred UK troops will be sent to Poland and Estonia as part of a Nato deployment in response to anxiety over Russia.

In order to "reassure" the two countries, a 500-strong battalion will be sent to Estonia while 150 troops will be based in Poland, says Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

The move is the latest chapter in Nato's response to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Fallon says Nato wants to "deter Russia from any further aggression", adding that eastern Nato countries "feel enormous pressure from Russia doing large exercises on the border, flying over their airspace and so on".

Referring to the plan, he said: "This is something Nato's been planning for a while, that countries like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have made clear that they want."

Moscow says it is a victim of Nato "encirclement" and responded by announcing a snap inspection of its armed forces.

A "highly mobile" British-led force will act as "a trip-wire" in Estonia after military planners were unnerved by Russian behaviour in the region, including the buzzing of US ships by Su24 jets in the Baltic Sea, says the Daily Telegraph.

Fallon insists that in the event of a military emergency, the taskforce could be supported by a Nato high-readiness "spearhead" brigade of 5,000 men.

"They won't be left out to dry. They can be reinforced very rapidly," he said.

Last month, General Sir Nick Carter told the defence select committee that Britain was in an "era of constant competition" with Russia. "I think the boundaries between peace and war are now much more blurred than they once were," he said.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war in Ukraine will be top of the agenda at a Nato summit starting today, which is seen as the most significant since the end of the Cold War.

Also to be discussed are the alliance's continuing support for Afghan forces and defeating Islamic State.

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