Diplomats warn that it may take months to develop appropriate plans.

According to information provided by three diplomats, NATO defense ministers are expected to put into effect this week a plan for the deployment of four international combat units in southeastern Europe, which will be a response to the Russian military buildup in Ukraine. This was reported by the Reuters news agency.

During a series of meetings of the heads of the defense ministries of the alliance countries on Wednesday and Thursday, a decision will be made on whether plans will be made to deploy combat groups of about 1,000 troops each for Bulgaria, Romania, and possibly for Slovakia and Hungary. According to Reuters, citing sources in the diplomatic agencies, in connection with the U.S. warning about the imminent invasion of Russia in Ukraine, NATO defense ministers are likely to agree to the first step, namely to develop a detailed plan for four combat groups on land.

“A task will be set that will allow us to escalate the situation, but also de-escalate it if Russia withdraws its armed forces,” one of the senior diplomats explained on the rights of anonymity, stressing that any new combat groups will take into account recent allied proposals by the United Kingdom and the United States and others to provide military vessels and aircraft to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and the alliance is not obligated to protect it under the treaty. Reinforcements in the Black Sea would demonstrate the determination to act both in the entire strategically important region and in countries such as Hungary and Slovakia, which border Ukraine.

Any final decision on the deployment of troops will be made later, although France and Bulgaria have already offered to lead combat groups in Romania and Bulgaria, respectively. If implemented, this step will be the biggest shift in NATO’s power structure since the Expanded NATO Forward Presence program was launched in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in response to the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.

Any deployment of military forces would come into direct conflict with the security requirement that Moscow justified the request sent to the alliance to withdraw troops from Eastern Europe.

Hungary and Slovakia are hesitating

NATO insists that the battle group format used in the Baltic States is not a permanent deployment of troops, but rather a “steady” presence of successive military whose mission is to prepare the ground for a larger response force in the event of a Russian invasion of NATO territory. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hinted at the possibility of creating more such combat groups. On February 7, he said: “We are considering longer-term adjustments to our position, our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. A final decision on this has not yet been made, but the process is underway in NATO right now.”

In turn, the representative of the French president said that French troops will be deployed in Romania only after the relevant decision of NATO, and that the creation and arming of combat groups will take time, since the allies must participate on a voluntary basis.

“There will be debates in the North Atlantic Council, the scheduled end date is not earlier than in a few months,” he explained.

However, according to diplomats, due to the fact that Slovakia and Hungary are afraid of provoking Russia, the alliance may not repeat the model of actions in the Baltic States. Instead, NATO may consider deploying a French-led multinational force in Romania, which will coordinate Allied exercises in Eastern Europe and allow troops to enter and exit the region without establishing an official presence.