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Britain to block Putin: UK will lead new rapid reaction force to curb Russian aggression in eastern Europe

By Gavin Cordon

Britain is to a head up a new rapid-reaction Nato "spearhead" force designed to deter Russian further aggression against former Soviet bloc states in eastern Europe, David Cameron has said.

On the final day of the alliance summit in South Wales, the Prime Minister said the UK would be the first member state to take charge of the 4,000-strong force when it becomes operational at the end of next year.

The UK will provide the largest contingent with a 1,000-strong battle group and headquarters for the force which will be on standby to deploy troops within two to five days in the event of a new crisis.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that the European Union would press ahead with a new round of sanctions against Russia, despite the agreement of a ceasefire with pro-Moscow rebels announced by Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko.

Mr Cameron welcomed the truce, but said that Western sanctions would only be removed if "proper milestones" towards a lasting peace were reached.

The Prime Minister hailed a "hard-fought" agreement by all 28 Nato members to reverse the trend of cuts in defence spending and move towards meeting the alliance's target of spending 2% of GDP on defence over the coming decade – with a fifth of spending to go on major new equipment.

He sought to underline Britain's own commitment to alliance collective defence with an announcement that the Royal Navy's second new aircraft carrier – the Prince of Wales, due to be completed in 2017 – will enter service rather than be mothballed or sold off, enabling the UK to have a carrier available at all times.

The Newport summit has been dominated by concerns over Russian aggression in the east of Ukraine, as well as the violent uprising by Islamic State jihadis in Iraq and Syria.

The creation of a spearhead force able to deploy thousands of troops in a matter of days is intended to provide reassure to allies in eastern Europe, such as Nato members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who fear they could be the next targets of Soviet aggression.

Troops will be provided by member states on a rotation basis. It will have a headquarters in Poland and will be supported by the "pre-positioning" of supplies of fuel and ammunition in bases in eastern Europe.

Mr Cameron said that Britain would also be deploying 3,500 military personnel on a series of Nato exercises running to the end of 2015 intended to ensure a persistent alliance presence in the region while providing further financial assistance to the government in Kiev.

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