Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has put the NATO alliance and its member nations “absolutely at risk,” a Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) official told reporters on Wednesday, a month into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The official called Putin “reckless” and said he and his inner circle “don’t care about human life.”
“From Russia, we realize that Putin and his close circle, they are absolutely reckless people. They don’t care about human life. They lie publicly to conceal their military operations. Putin has totally changed his speech toward the West, and he has a deep hatred of our societies, of our values, so we really assess that he is dangerous, and that the alliance is absolutely at risk,” the official said on Wednesday.
SHAPE is the headquarters of the NATO alliance military operations in Europe. It is located in Brussels, Belgium. Two SHAPE officials briefed reporters on the NATO military posture and how they are responding to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The briefing comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s trip to NATO headquarters in Brussels to meet with NATO allied countries’ leaders as the Ukraine crisis continues.
The war has created a “new reality” for NATO allies, another SHAPE official said, echoing Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s words at a news conference earlier Wednesday.
“You just listened to the SecGen’s presser, and he said it’s a new reality and we must reset our defense and our deterrence posture,” the second SHAPE official said. “This is a permanent and profound change in the European security environment, and SecGen has said the same thing.”
The officials said it is too early to predict how NATO will permanently shift its military force posture across Europe because of Putin’s actions, but they spoke to how the posture has changed so far to reinforce the eastern flank, where NATO allied countries border Ukraine, and to ensure they are prepared for any scenario the war in Ukraine might cause for NATO countries.
Because the NATO Response Force was activated for the first time in NATO’s history, “40,000 troops” in NATO allied countries along the eastern flank are now working for the “collective security, collective defense,” of all NATO countries, not just for their own nations. There are eight battle groups, one in each eastern flank country, that are part of this NATO Response Force activation, the second SHAPE official said.
This is a “tenfold increase” in what was there before the invasion of Ukraine, the official added.
“In the land domain, in land forces, there are now 40,000 troops in those eight battle groups, which are on the one in each country along the eastern flank, that is a tenfold increase on what was there prior to the invasion by Russia,” the second SHAPE official said.
In the air, there are an “additional 100 plus airplanes,” the official said.
“We always do what we call air policing,” the official said, but now after the invasion started, they have eight aircraft flying to give the alliance “24/7 airborne presence on the eastern flank.”
In the waters around NATO allied countries, the alliance has “25 ships at any given time that are patrolling the waters providing 360 degree deterrence,” the official said.
“In addition to that, there’s normally about 150 ships from NATO nations additionally that are also cruising the waters and can flex back and forth under NATO command and control,” the official added.
While it is too soon to tell what the permanent changes to NATO military force posture will be because of Putin’s invasion, the official said the current force posture “at a minimum” is a good “starting point” of what things could look like long-term.
“We are preparing for the worst but doing everything that we can so that the worst does not happen,” the first official said.