Britain has confirmed it will make available 1,000 troops to a rapid-reaction force in the Baltic as Nato defence ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss the looming threat of Russia.
The creation of a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) to bolster the security of the alliance's eastern flanks was agreed when its leaders met for a summit in Wales last year.
It will be on standby to deploy up to 5,000 troops within two to five days in the event of a new crisis to provide reassurance to allies who fear they could be the next targets of aggression from neighbouring Russia.
Earleir today, it was announced that French and German leaders will make new proposals for peace in Ukraine in a join -visit to Kiev today and Moscow tomorrow.
President Francois Hollande announced at a press conference in Paris that he an Chancellor Angela Merkel would fly to Kiev this afternoon to make new proposals to the Ukrainian president. He said that they would then fly on to Moscow tomorrow for talks with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Mr Hollande said that the Franco-German plan would be based on the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine and would demand a lasting cease-fire. “In Ukraine, it is now war,” Mtr Hollande said. “Heavy weapons are being used. Civilians are dying.”
UK armed forces will take the rotating lead role of the force in 2017.
The RAF will also continue the deployment of four RAF Typhoon jets to upgraded airspace patrols over Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the sustained fighting in Ukraine and Russia's continued arming and training of rebel forces was one of the greatest security challenges facing the world.
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
It was vital, he said ahead of the gathering in Brussels attended by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, to "make clear that Nato is determined to defend all Allies against any threats from any direction".
Mr Fallon said the UK would provide manpower to two regional headquarters - in Poland and Romania - and to force integration units in those countries as well as the three Baltic States and Bulgaria.
"Nato's credibility in the face of the security challenges we face depends on everyone playing their part to implement the decisions taken at Wales last year," he said.
"The Readiness Action Plan demonstrates the Alliance's commitment to reinforce our collective defence but strong words must be backed up with firm action.
"That is why I am delighted to announce that the UK will lead the VJTF in 2017 and contribute to the Baltic Air Policing mission again in order to put the Plan into practice."
Around 3,500 military personnel are also taking part in a series of Nato exercises ths year intended to ensure a persistent alliance presence in the region while providing further financial assistance to the government in Kiev.
Additional reporting by PAReuse content