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NATO defense ministers convene in tense security environment

October 26, 2016 - BELGIUM

The defense ministers of the Alliance meet at headquarters in Brussels to continue beefing-up the NATO presence on Russia's doorstep and to weigh calls for more direct intervention in Syria.

The report that the missile that downed on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine was made by Russia, can be counted on to harden the Allies' attitudes to Moscow.

The growing devastation in Aleppo from combined Syrian and Russian bombing is increasing calls on the Alliance to intervene directly. As it stands, all NATO allies are part of the counter-ISIL coalition. Decisions on a more active role in Syria and Ukraine await the NATO summit in 2017, but the defense ministers will be expected to emerge from pre-summit meetings with strong recommendations.

In a pre-ministerial address in February, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the Alliance is "actively considering the United States' request for NATO AWACS surveillance planes "to backfill national capabilities."

Moscow has warned against any direct Allied challenge to the Syrian government.

The finding from a Dutch-led investigative team that the surface-to-air missile that downed a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people aboard, was brought from Russia and was fired from territory held by pro-Moscow separatists, adds to the pressure on the Alliance to take on Russia directly.

Reuters reports that with East-West tensions running at their highest since the Cold War, NATO has made clear it will not intervene in Ukraine but will bolster the defenses of nervous eastern allies who were under Moscow's domination for four decades until 1989.

NATO will deploy by rotation four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. In the February address, Stoltenberg also said ministers will look at ways to improve the Alliance's response to hybrid attacks. He accused Russia of using this strategy in Ukraine. It combines conventional military force with subversion, cyber attacks and propaganda.

NATO to send troops to deter Russia, Putin orders snap checks (Reuters 14 Jun 2016)

NATO Must Face Varied Threats, Secretary General Says (9 Feb 2016)

October meeting of NATO defense ministers may take up Syrian situation (TASS 30 Sep 2016)

Missile brought from Russia downed Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine (WP 28 Sep 2016)

Germany to Lead NATO Battle Group in Lithuania (Germany Info, 13 Jul 2016)

Date written/update: 2016-10-05