* NATO has said it will boost presence on sea, land and air
* Steps aimed at reassuring nervous east European allies
* Canada offers six fighter planes
* NATO plans to triple number of fighters in the Baltics
(Adds Pentagon comments)
By Adrian Croft
BRUSSELS, April 17 NATO is sending part of its
naval rapid reaction force to the Baltic Sea as part of a drive
to step up the defence of eastern European allies in response to
the crisis in Ukraine, the military alliance said on Thursday.
Separately, Canada said it had offered six CF-18 fighter
planes as its contribution to NATO efforts to beef up its
presence in eastern Europe and reassure nervous allies there
that NATO would protect them in the event of any Russian
The Pentagon said it would extend its own deployment of F-16
fighter jets to Poland through the end of the year, and
encouraged other NATO allies to contribute to the detachment.
NATO, the 28-member alliance dominated by the United States,
has made clear it does not plan to get involved militarily in
Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
But it announced plans on Wednesday to send more ships,
planes and troops to eastern Europe to reassure members of the
alliance, particularly the ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics,
that are worried by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea
NATO gave only a broad outline of its plans on Wednesday,
but some details began to emerge on Thursday.
A multinational group of five small ships - four
minesweepers and a support vessel - will be sent to the Baltic
Sea soon and will stay "for the foreseeable future", a spokesman
for NATO's Maritime Command said.
The ships from Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Estonia
make up one of four NATO naval groups that the alliance has
available as an immediate reaction force.
The NATO "mine counter measures" group had been inactive
since January but was called back to duty last week by U.S. Air
Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO's top military commander.
"During this period of tension, we felt it appropriate to
deploy (the group) to the Baltic Sea as part of a broad package
of actions by NATO's maritime, air, and ground forces,"
Breedlove said in a statement.
The ships, now assembling in the German port of Kiel, will
visit Baltic ports and take part in a previously scheduled
exercise next month to hunt for mines and torpedoes from both
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his country was
offering six Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter aircraft to
the NATO effort and up to 20 staff officers to assist with
"Canada continues to strongly condemn Russia's illegal
occupation of Ukraine and its ongoing aggressive military
provocation. Along with our NATO allies, we recognise the need
to enhance security and stability in Central and Eastern
Europe," Harper said in a statement.
NATO has already said it will triple its usual number of
fighter jets patrolling over the Baltics from next month as part
of steps to beef up its eastern European defences.
The United States, Britain, Denmark, France and Germany are
among NATO allies that have promised extra fighters to patrol
the skies over the Baltic countries - which do not have fighters
of their own - or elsewhere in eastern Europe.
Various allies have also offered extra ships, refuelling
planes and AWACS reconnaissance aircraft to the NATO effort.
At the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he
would extend the deployment to Poland of 12 F-16 fighter jets
and support personnel until the end of 2014.
"The United States is also encouraging other NATO allies to
contribute to the detachment," Hagel said, standing alongside
his Polish counterpart. He pointed to Romania, saying it was the
latest NATO member to acquire F-16s.
NATO plans to boost its defences through a series of
temporary deployments of military forces and exercises but has
so far shied away from setting up new permanent bases in the
east as Poland wanted.
Russia says deployment of significant NATO forces in eastern
Europe, close to Russia, would violate the 1997 Founding Act, a
cooperation agreement between Moscow and the alliance.
(Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa and Phil
Stewart in Washington; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Gunna Dickson)