BRUSSELS — NATO said Friday it will deploy small units in six eastern European nations to help coordinate a spearhead force set up in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the units in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania will be the first of their kind there.
Defense ministers from the 28-nation military alliance will discuss the full force, which can react quickly to any hotspots in Europe, when they meet on Feb. 5.
Stoltenberg said countries responsible for providing the several thousand troops should be known next week.
The forward units will comprise a few dozen troops only. They will plan and organize military exercises, and provide command and control for any reinforcements the force might require.
"They're going to plan, they're going to organize exercises, to provide ... some key command elements for reinforcements," Stoltenberg said.
NATO forces conducted some 200 military exercises in 2014 and Stoltenberg, speaking at his regular monthly press conference, vowed that this would continue as the Alliance adapts to the increased presence of Russian war planes in European skies. NATO intercepted more than 400 Russian aircraft last year.
On Thursday, British fighter jets scrambled to intercept Russian bombers which did not make contact with British air traffic control.
Stoltenberg also warned that Russia has continued to build up its military, as European NATO allies cut budgets again last year. The alliance has been on a drive to spend more efficiently and to pool and share resources but even this, he said, would not be sustainable.
"It is not possible to get more out of less indefinitely. That is the reason why we have to stop the cuts and gradually start to increase defense spending as our economies grow," he said.
"Despite the economic crisis, despite the financial problems they are facing, Russia now is still giving priority to defense spending."
France pledges tanks, armored vehicles
France is pledging tanks and armored vehicles to bolster NATO forces in Poland, where leaders are increasingly uneasy about Russia.
In a joint statement Friday after a meeting between French President Francois Hollande and Polish Prime Minister Eva Kopacz, the two governments also called for a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has intensified between pro-Russia separatists and government troops.
NATO has no permanent presence in Eastern Europe but since last April members have been cycling forces and military equipment through the region in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine.
The French military equipment is expected to remain in Poland for two months.