In May, Russia amassed some 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, the highest number since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, Western officials say. In September, Russia used new combat robots in large military drills with its ex-Soviet ally Belarus that have alarmed Baltic allies.
Russia is upgrading or replacing Soviet military space systems to potentially attack satellites in orbit, developing artificial intelligence-based technologies to disrupt allied command systems, and also developing "super weapons".
Unveiled in 2018, they include nuclear-capable hypersonic cruise missiles that could evade early-warning systems.
Retired US General Ben Hodges, who commanded US army forces in Europe from 2014 until 2017, said he hoped the plan would foster greater coherence in Nato's collective defence, meaning more resources for the Black Sea region.
"To me, this is the more likely flashpoint than the Baltics," Hodges said, noting fewer big allies such as Britain and France have a strong presence in the Black Sea, and Turkey is more focused on conflict in Syria.
Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official now at the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels, said the plan might also help to cement a focus on Russia at a time when major allies are seeking to boost their presence in the Indo-Pacific and counter China's rising military power.
"The assumption up until now has been that Russia is a nuisance but not an imminent threat. But the Russians are doing some worrying things. They're practising with robotics, and hypersonic cruise missiles could be very disruptive indeed," Shea said.
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