NATO is preparing for what many are calling one of the alliance’s most important summits in many years. When member leaders meet later this week in Wales, they are expected to take strong actions to form a new force that can act swiftly to handle what many see as Russian aggression.
The charred remains of a Ukrainian military convoy - all that’s left after an ambush by Russian-backed separatists.
It’s scenes like this that have NATO officials pushing for a new rapid reaction force - one that can deploy within days to help member states on Russia’s border.
But while U.S. troops have been taking part in ramped-up war games to reassure nervous European allies, at the White House Tuesday there were questions about how much Washington is willing to contribute.
Earnest: “Certainly the United States will be supportive of any sort of alliance decisions."
Question: “So we could contribute troops? That option remains available that the U.S. will consider?”
Earnest: “Well, there are already troops, in some cases operating under the NATO banner, in some cases just operating on American military bases.”
NATO officials say the rapid reaction force is part of a larger plan that is expected to be endorsed by leaders at this week’s summit in Wales.
The force would include several thousand troops based in their home countries with air, sea and special forces support.
“The spearhead force will be the first step, but of course it will be followed by more force if needed. But we do believe that there is a very strong deterrent," said NATO Secretary General Rasmussen.
Such talk has irritated Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says it is getting out of hand.
"It is necessary to restrain the 'war party' in Kyiv and in reality only the U.S. can do this," said Lavrov.
At the Pentagon, Rear Admiral John Kirby responded...
“You want to talk provocative, let’s talk about a few thousand Russian troops inside eastern Ukraine," said Kirby.
Still, some NATO members, like Estonia, say what’s needed is more than a new force.
“For us, it would be important that both NATO and the U.S. would be present in our region as long as Russia is continuing its aggressive policies. So we’re talking about continuous or more sustainable presence of both NATO and the U.S. in the region," said Tanel Sepp, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Estonia.
Estonia’s chief of mission to the U.S. tells VOA his country already has adequate facilities, including one of the most modern military airfields in northern Europe.