EU to establish rapid reaction force with up to 5,000 troops

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German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht speaks to the media, on the day of a Foreign Affairs Council with Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium March 21, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

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March 21 (Reuters) - EU foreign and defence ministers on Monday agreed a security strategy meant to boost the bloc's military clout when war has returned to Europe, establishing a rapid reaction force with up to 5,000 of troops to be swiftly deployed in a crisis.

"The threats are rising and the cost of inaction is clear," the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement, calling the document that sets out European ambitions in defence and security to be reached by 2030 a "guide to action".

Work on the strategy started in 2020, before the pandemic, a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Ukraine war. After Russia's invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, the EU toughened its language on Moscow.

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"The EU needs to be able to protect its citizens and to contribute to international peace and security," the bloc said in a statement. "This is all the more important at a time when war has returned to Europe, following the unjustified and unprovoked Russian aggression against Ukraine, as well as of major geopolitical shifts."

Russia has described its invasion as a "special military operation" to disarm Ukraine. read more

At the same time, the EU has made it clear it sees its efforts as complementary to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and not intended to compete with the U.S.-led military alliance as an anchor of Western defence.

Germany is ready to provide the core of the EU's new rapid reaction force in 2025, the year it is meant to become fully operational, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said in Brussels.

The force will replace the existing EU battlegroups that the bloc has had since 2007 but never used. Plans for an overhaul gained traction after European countries struggled to handle the chaotic withdrawal from Kabul in August.

EU leaders are expected to sign off on the security strategy, referred to as the Strategic Compass, at a summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels.

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Reporting by Sabine Siebold Editing by John Chalmers and Barbara Lewis

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