A 4,000-strong Nato rapid reaction force – initially including 1,000 British troops – is to be set up in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and could be deployed within two to five days of any crisis emerging in eastern or central Europe.
David Cameron said Britain will take the lead in the “spearhead” force, which would be headed by senior UK military officers. It will be based in Poland and is due to be fully operational by the end of next year.
The force was agreed by political and military leaders at the Nato summit in Newport, South Wales today. It will sit alongside an existing Nato response force which takes longer to deploy.
In addition, Britain is contributing 3,500 troops to a programme of Nato exercises in eastern Europe over the next 16 months. The alliance is also preparing to "pre-position" supplies of fuel and ammunition in bases in eastern Europe.
The decision to press ahead with the Nato deployments reflects unease in eastern European Nato member states – including Poland and the Baltic countries – about President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions.
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 finalised hours before the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was received as a guest of honour at the Nato summit, announced a ceasefire had been reached in the east of the country.
Nato’s secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “This decision sends a clear message to any potential aggressor: should you even think of attacking an ally, you will be facing the whole alliance.”
Mr Cameron told his end of summit press conference: “No one will leave here with any doubt that our collective security is as strong as it has ever been. The Alliance is firmly committed to providing ongoing reassurance to our eastern Allies.”
He was speaking as European Union leaders in Brussels finalised the details of fresh sanctions against Russia. Similar measures are set to be announced by the American and Canadian governments.
They were expected to include restrictions on Russian energy, hi-tech and aerospace firms as well as further travel bans and asset freezes on figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Cameron said existing sanctions were already having an impact on the Russian economy, adding: “At the end of the day, Russia needs the European Union and the United States more than the European Union and the United States needs Russia.”
The Prime Minister said the West stood ready to impose further sanctions if the ceasefire broke out and pro-Russian separatists continued their aggression.
“We should accept Ukraine’s territorial integrity. That’s why we have imposed the sanctions, that’s why we have piled on the pressure,” he said.