NATO leaders will back plans Friday for positioning more troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe, establishing a rapid response force aimed at easing anxiety among member states near Russia’s border and deterring the Kremlin against replicating its provocations in Ukraine elsewhere in the region.
The announcement will come against the backdrop of peace talks involving Russia and Ukraine in Minsk, Belarus. The talks are aimed at achieving a cease-fire to bring an end to the months of fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists.
While Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko voiced “careful optimism” about the talks, Western leaders remain skeptical. The U.S. and Europe have warned that they stand ready to levy more economic sanctions on Russia, a step a top White House official said could occur within days.
The creation of the rapid response force is the centerpiece of the two-day NATO gathering at a golf resort in southern Wales. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the agreement “will ensure we have the right forces and equipment in the right places.”
On the sidelines of the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have been seeking support from their counterparts for a campaign to degrade Islamic State militants that have wreaked havoc in Iraq and Syria.
Both leaders had meetings planned with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key regional player whose support would be crucial to defeating the militants. Obama also had a bilateral meeting planned Friday morning with French President Francois Hollande.