NATO to set up regional centers in east Europe – Lithuania

VILNIUS, Lithuania – NATO will set up regional centers in a handful of Eastern European countries, Lithuania said on Friday, September 19, as top military commanders met in the Baltic state's capital.

Defense chiefs from the alliance's 28 nations are taking part in a three-day meeting in Vilnius along with NATO top commander General Philip Breedlove amid anxiety in the region over Russia's actions in Ukraine.

The so-called "command and control" centers will be launched in "four or five countries, namely Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Romania," Lithuania's chief of defense Jonas Vytautas Zukas told reporters in Vilnius.

They will each employ up to 120 military personnel and will be responsible for a "multinational battalion" once other allies join the US troops already deployed in Eastern Europe, he said.

Troop contributions from NATO allies could be announced over the weekend, Zukas' spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

"This increases our security," Zukas said, adding that the Lithuanian center would be set up by the end of the year.

Poland and the Baltics have been rattled by Russia's actions in Ukraine, including its March annexation of the Crimean peninsula and suspected backing of rebels in the east.

The four EU and NATO members have repeatedly called for boots on the ground to ward off any potential threat from their Soviet-era master.

In response, NATO announced a new rapid reaction force at a key summit in Wales earlier this month.

Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said the NATO conference in her country sends a clear message that political decisions will be swiftly implemented.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "understands only a tough position. Only our tough reaction and our unity can stop his actions in Europe and elsewhere," she told Agence France-Presse. –