A green beret from the US military and members of the Bulgarian special forces present their capabilities to officials visiting Bulgaria on August 26, 2021. The Supreme Allied Commander of NATO would like the alliance to set up groupings tactics in Bulgaria and Romania. (Devin Andrews / United States Marine Corps)
STUTTGART, Germany – The highest US military commander in Europe wants to bolster NATO’s eastern flank with multinational battle groups in Romania and Bulgaria over concerns over Russia’s movements around Ukraine.
General Tod Wolters, who is the Supreme Allied Commander in NATO and head of the United States’ European Command, handed the proposal to Allied military leaders in a recent video call, German weekly Der Spiegel earlier this month.
Citing information he had obtained on the plan, Der Spiegel said Wolters wanted contingents in the two Black Sea countries that resemble those already established in the Baltic states and Poland.
The 1,500-member battle groups are designed to function as a deterrent force against possible Russian aggression.
When asked on Thursday, NATO did not directly address Wolters’ proposal, which was reported on December 18.
The addition of battlegroups in Romania and Bulgaria would be in line with more recent NATO efforts to strengthen its position around the Black Sea, a strategic waterway where Russia has increasingly asserted itself.
U.S. Air Force General Tod Wolters, Supreme Allied Commander NATO, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on April 13, 2021. (EJ Hersom / Department of Defense)
Yet it is still unclear how Wolters predicts battlegroups in these countries will be received by the alliance states.
Within NATO, there are often tensions between members of the East, eager for Allied reinforcements and a greater American military presence, and their Western European counterparts, such as Germany, who fear to provoke Russia.
Wolters also called on the allies to use satellites and other sensors to monitor threats in the east and immediately share the results with the alliance, Der Spiegel reported.
The United States and other NATO countries have said they are ready to strengthen their eastern allies if Russia launches another invasion of Ukraine.
For its part, Russia now demands a wide range of security guarantees linked to Ukraine, including the commitment that Kiev will never be admitted into the alliance.
In 2008, NATO declared that Ukraine would eventually become a member if it met a series of Alliance military and political standards. But since then Ukraine’s quest for membership has stalled and the allies have given no indication that they are in a hurry to accede to Kiev’s request for early membership.
The Kremlin’s demands for NATO are expected to be at the center of discussions at a January 10 meeting on Ukraine between Russia and the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to address the issue in a scheduled phone call Thursday with President Joe Biden.
For Russia, the military strengthening of NATO near its borders has long been a point of contention. But much of that renewed presence did not come until after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.
The takeover of Ukrainian bases by Russian forces, the subsequent annexation of Crimea by Moscow, and the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels triggered NATO’s largest military build-up since end of the cold war.
Most NATO efforts since 2014 have focused on strengthening defenses around the Baltic states and Poland, where US troops lead a battle group just 80 kilometers from the Russian military enclave of Kaliningrad.