NATO commits more fighters to eastern Europe

NATO has announced that its members will send additional combat air platforms to ongoing deployments in eastern Europe in response to continued fears that Russia could be on the verge of invading Ukraine.

In a January 24 statement from NATO, it was revealed that Denmark is set to deploy four F-16 fighters to Lithuania in support of the air-policing mission in the region, with Spain also said to be considering sending additional aircraft to Bulgaria.

Netherlands F-35A
The Netherlands will deploy F-35A fighters to Bulgaria in the coming months as NATO members boost forces in eastern Europe. USAF/Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid

Meanwhile, on January 20 the Netherlands announced that it would deploy two F-35A Lightnings IIs for QRA tasks in Bulgaria during the months of April and May as a contribution to strengthen NATO defence towards the Russian activities on the boarders of Ukraine. This will be the first time the country has operationally deployed its new F-35A aircraft.

Alongside the two F-35As, the Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands said it planned to deploy an amphibious transport vessel which will embark landing craft and helicopters. It is not clear whether the rotary component will be Air Force Cougars or Navy NH-90s.

Of the plans to enhance forces in eastern Europe, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the move, stating that the Alliance would “take all necessary measures” to protect and defend allies.

“We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defence,” Stoltenberg added.

Speaking on January 20 of the plans to deploy F-35A stealth fighters to Bulgaria, Netherlands Minister of Defence Kajsa Ollongren said “all efforts” were aimed at “de-escalating the situation”, adding however that it was “important to be prepared for the undesirable scenario that conversations fail.”

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on its borders with Ukraine and other countries in the region, demanding that NATO withdraw forces from eastern Europe and cease what it considers the expansion of the Alliance into countries within Moscow’s sphere of influence. In 2014 Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine following the ouster of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, who was aligned with Moscow.

Russia subsequently supported a separatist uprising in Ukraine’s Donbass region, with the ongoing conflict, now at a stalemate, resulting in tens of thousands of military and civilian casualties and the internal displacement of more than one million Ukrainian nationals.

Since the turn of the millennium Moscow has been particularly aggressive in its own expansion into countries or that previously were part of the Soviet Union. In 2008 Russia invaded neighbouring Georgia to support a purported uprising in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were effectively annexed.

For more on the Ukraine crisis, see Key.Aero's exclusive analysis available at the link below.