The UK will send 20,000 troops to one of NATO’s biggest military drills since the Cold War as the alliance practices repelling an invasion by Russian forces, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to announce today.
Army, navy and RAF personnel will be deployed to the 31-nation Steadfast Defender exercise in a bid to provide “vital reassurance against the menace” of Vladimir Putin, Mr Shapps will say in a speech.
The defence secretary will also warn the West stands at a “crossroads” as he unveils the UK’s contribution to the war games in an address at Lancaster House.
Mr Shapps will set out his vision for how the UK will rebuff potential threats as allies remain concerned over the danger posed by the Kremlin, with the war against Ukraine now approaching its second year.
He is expected to say: “We are in a new era and we must be prepared to deter our enemies, prepared to lead our allies and prepared to defend our nation, whenever the call comes.
“Today our adversaries are busily rebuilding their barriers, old enemies are reanimated, battle lines are being drawn, the tanks are literally on Ukraine’s lawn and the foundations of the world order are being shaken to their core. We stand at a crossroads.”
Around 16,000 troops, together with tanks, artillery and helicopters, will be sent by the British Army from across Eastern Europe, starting from next month.
The Royal Navy will deploy more than 2,000 sailors across eight warships and submarines, while more than 400 Royal Marine Commandoes will be sent to the Arctic Circle.
The RAF will use F-35B Lightning attack aircraft and Poseidon P-8 surveillance aircraft.
The exercise will prepare for the invasion of a member state by any aggressor, defence sources said.
But the main threats being considered are from Russia and terrorists.
‘Much more needs to be done to protect ourselves’
Speaking at a press conference last September, the chair of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, said of the exercise: “In 2024, the alliance will be holding its largest collective defence exercise since the Cold War: Steadfast Defender.
“Over 40,000 troops from across the alliance will exercise in Germany, Poland and the three Baltic states.”
“A new era of collective defence is upon us,” he continued.
“And NATO military authorities have been preparing for this era for years.
“We have never been stronger or readier.
“And yet… much more needs to be done in order to not only protect ourselves against current threats, but also against reconstituted threats and potential future threats.”
Mr Shapp’s announcement will come hours after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a surprise visit to Kyiv to unveil a further £2.5bn support package in 2024-25 – an increase of £200m on the previous two years.
Mr Sunak and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also signed a new security agreement committing the UK to provide “swift and sustained” assistance if Ukraine is ever attacked by Russia again.
In total since the war began, the UK will have provided almost £12bn of aid to Ukraine, the prime minister said.
Mr Sunak vowed the UK would continue to stand with Ukraine, telling an audience: “Ukraine is not alone, and Ukraine will never be alone.
“Putin might think that he can outlast us but he is wrong.
“We stand with you today, tomorrow and for as long as it takes.”