NATO ministers chart course on Ukraine, Afghanistan

NATO ministers chart course on Ukraine, Afghanistan
Members of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team leave a Chinook helicopter during the Silver Arrow NATO military exercise in Adazi, Latvia October 5, 2014.

BRUSSELS - NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels Tuesday aiming to plot a new course after a "year of aggression" from Ukraine to the Middle East and the end of the alliance's combat mission in Afghanistan.

New chief Jens Stoltenberg said as he arrived that US Secretary of State John Kerry and other ministers from the 28-nation group would discuss how to "drive our alliance forward in a changing world." "Nato must be strong today and strong tomorrow to deal with any challenges from the east or from the south," said the Norwegian, who took over from Denmark's Anders Fogh Rasmussen on October 1.

Stoltenberg said he expected four outcomes from the meeting: an agreement on boosting forces in the east to counter a rising Russia; a deal on an interim NATO quick reaction force; more support for Ukraine; and to sign off a deal on a support mission in Afghanistan.

He insisted NATO would continue to back Ukraine and pressed Russia to live up to its commitments after it backed a ceasefire and peace plan agreed between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in the Belarus capital Minsk in September.

"The challenge is that the separatists and Russia are not respecting" the Minsk accords, he said as he arrived for the meeting at NATO's Brussels HQ.

Speaking Monday, Stoltenberg had described 2014 as "a year of aggression, crisis and conflict."

'Spearhead' force

The NATO ministers' agenda will be topped by an interim rapid-reaction force capable of meeting the new and more unpredictable threats that the transatlantic alliance faces.

Accustomed to long-term threats, NATO's 28 leaders agreed at a September summit to launch a "spearhead" force of around 4,000 troops by 2016 in response to new challenges of hybrid warfare and political upheaval.

But on Tuesday they will discuss an even faster, smaller force to be operational by early 2015, with Germany and the Netherlands willing to contribute troops.

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