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NATO Leaders Push United Front Against Russia Despite Faltering EU

NATO member flags outside the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium

NATO leaders at the opening of the Warsaw Summit on Thursday promised enhanced security measures to counter Russian Aggression despite Britain's recent decision to leave the European Union.

On Friday and Saturday, leaders of the 28 NATO allies and many partner nations will meet for a landmark summit to hammer out plans to strengthen its "deterrence and defense, and projecting stability beyond its borders," according to a NATO press release.

"Allies will agree to deploy four robust and multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, on a rotational basis," the release states.

"A multinational framework brigade in Romania will provide a tailored presence in south-eastern Europe," it states. "NATO will also take further steps to improve cyber defences, civil preparedness and to defend against ballistic missile attack from outside the Euro-Atlantic area."

Leaders will agree to extend the organization's training mission in Iraq and to broaden its role in the central Mediterranean. They will also approve the deployment of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance aircraft to support the global coalition to counter Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, also known as ISIS, according to the release.

"Today, NATO is faster, stronger and more ready for any challenge," officials said in the release. "The decisions taken at the Warsaw Summit will help to ensure the safety of our citizens for years to come."

These bold statements come at a time of increased instability in Europe with the so-called Brexit, which has spurred numerous questions about the U.K.'s commitment -- and ability -- to be a part of the continent's collective defense.

Seeking to reassure nervous allies, Secretary of State John Kerry said after hastily-arranged meetings in Brussels with NATO's leadership that the U.S. commitment to the Europe "will not change one iota as a consequence of the vote that has taken place" in Britain in mid-June to leave the European Union.

The Brexit fallout on the efforts of the U.S. and NATO to counter Russian aggression in Europe are expected to be minimal, at least in the short term, National Security Adviser Susan Rice has said.

The U.S. military for months has been conducting joint exercises with other NATO military units in eastern Europe to reassure allies and deter Russia from attempting future operations similar to its incursion into Ukraine in 2014.

So far NATO's military response to Russian military involvement in the Ukraine has come in the form of small-scale airborne operations involving several countries.

Swift Response 16, which began May 27 and is scheduled to run through June 26 in Poland and Germany, will include more than 5,000 soldiers and airmen from the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

Swift Response will demonstrate the allies' ability to respond to a crisis scenario from staging bases in both Europe and the U.S. within 18 hours of notification.

A battalion of 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, will make a 10-hour transatlantic flight -- including en-route refueling, mission planning and parachute rigging -- from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to parachute into the exercise area near Torun, Poland.

The Pentagon also recently announced it plans to deploy an armored brigade combat team to Eastern Europe in February. That plan essentially calls for the constant presence of a third brigade in Europe. Two are already permanently stationed in Europe -- a Stryker brigade and an airborne brigade. And now a brigade will rotate in and out on a continual basis, according to the Associated Press.

In addition to these three combat brigades, the United States has agreed to commit one battalion along with three allied battalions on Europe's eastern flank, according to Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Conley noted that Russia has stated that it will move three divisions to the Western Military District. The country has been rebuilding and modernizing its military since it invaded Georgia in 2008.

The growing consensus is that since the Georgia-Russian conflict, the Russians have put substantial focus on modernizing their military and particularly focusing on rapid mobilization, Conley said.

Russian military forces are to deploy, some have estimated, upwards of 80,000 forces within 48 hours, she said.

Since NATO's last summit in Wales in 2014, allies have implemented "the biggest increase in collective defense since the Cold War," according the NATO press release.

Last year, allies also increased defense spending for the first time in many years.

There have been 27 previous summits. The first one was in December 1957. The last one was in Wales in September 2014. This one is the first to be hosted in Poland and the first to be chaired by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Fifty-eight official delegations will participate in the event, including all 28 NATO allies, Montenegro -- whose accession to the organization is currently in the ratification process, 26 partner countries and representatives from the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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