A plane carrying more than 50 French soldiers has arrived at the Amari Air Base in Estonia.
The arrival marks the beginning of the deployment of nearly 300 French troops to the British-led multinational NATO battalion.
France is contributing tanks, vehicles and artillery.
“First, we are expecting to train our inter-operability with the British Army and the Estonian Army to improve our level,” said Colonel Michel De Mesmay. “It is the reason why we come here with a lot of equipment such as the Maiden battle tank and infantry fighting vehicles in order to carry out a robust training.”
Bienvenue aux soldats français ! The first French troops have arrived in Estonia to take part in #NATO #eFP.— MoD Estonia (@MoD_Estonia) 20 mars 2017
EtatMajorFR</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Defense_gouv">Defense_gouv pic.twitter.com/jjfDFHMHto
More than 200 UK troops arrived in the country on Friday.
A US-led battalion of more than 1,100 soldiers will be deployed in Poland from the start of April. The alliance is setting up a new force in response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“This is a mission, not a cycle of training events,” US Army Lt. Colonel Steven Gventer told a news conference. “The purpose is to deter aggression in the Baltics and in Poland..we are fully ready to be lethal.”
The plan is being implemented as Western powers try for a peace settlement in eastern Ukraine.
The battle group in northeastern Poland will be one of four multinational formations across the Baltic region.
It will consist of:
- 900 US soldiers
- 150 British personnel
- 120 Romanian troops
The UK, Canada and Germany are leading the other three battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are due to be operational by June.
They will have support from a host of NATO nations, including France.
In total, around 4,000 NATO troops will monitor for – and defend against – any potential Russian incursions.
Seeking to avoid stationing troops permanently on Russia’s borders, the NATO force across the Baltics and Poland can rely on a network of eight small NATO outposts in the region, regular training exercises and a much larger force of 40,000 alliance troops in the event of an attack.
“We are not the entirety of NATO’s response,” said US Army Major Paul Rothlisberger, part of the US-led battalion based in Orzyz, 220 kilometres northeast of Warsaw.
What is NATO’s aim?
The alliance wants to show the ex-Soviet countries in NATO that they are protected from being annexed like the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
It also wants to avoid a return to the Cold War, when the US had an estimated 300,000 service personnel stationed in Europe and also stick to a 1997 agreement with Moscow not to permanently station forces on the Russian border.
What does Russia say?
Moscow, which denies having any expansionist or aggressive agenda, accuses NATO of trying to destabilise central Europe.
It has responded by forming four new military divisions to strengthen its western and central regions and stepping up exercises.
Moscow has plans for large-scale war games near its western borders this year, but has not said how many troops will take part.