About 8,000 British army troops are to take part in exercises across eastern Europe to combat Russian aggression in one of the largest deployments since the cold war.
Dozens of tanks will be deployed to countries ranging from Finland to North Macedonia this summer, and joining them will be tens of thousands of troops from Nato and the Joint Expeditionary Force alliance, which includes Finland and Sweden.
Commander Field Army Lt Gen Ralph Wooddisse, said: “The UK makes a significant contribution to the defence of Europe and the deterrence of Russian aggression.
The Ministry of Defence said the action had been long planned and subsequently enhanced in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.
“The British army’s series of exercises is fundamental to both.
“The scale of the deployment, coupled with the professionalism, training and agility of the British army, will deter aggression at a scale not seen in Europe this century.”
The UK deployment is expected to build to a peak of about 8,000 personnel operating in mainland Europe between April and June.
The defense secretary, Ben Wallace, said: “The security of Europe has never been more important. These exercises will see our troops join forces with allies and partners across Nato and the Joint Expeditionary Force in a show of solidarity and strength in one of the largest shared deployments since the cold war.”
Troops from the Queen’s Royal Hussars have been deployed and will be embedded in an armoured brigade in Finland, which shares an 830-mile land border with Russia.
Exercises alongside American troops are also taking place in Poland.
The announcement that Britain will conduct large-scale exercises in Europe comes after Vladimir Putin raised the prospect of attacks on western targets, warning of a “lightning-fast” retaliation if countries intervened in Ukraine.
The operation, called Exercise Hedgehog, will start in May and involve British troops exercising on the Estonia-Latvia border alongside 18,000 Nato troops, including French and Danish forces, who are part of the British-led Nato enhanced forward presence.
Meanwhile, the UK this week increased the pressure on international allies to bolster support for Ukraine.
In reference to Russian-occupied areas in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, she said: “We are going to keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.” There has been speculation that Ukraine would settle for a return to the pre-invasion status quo where territory was ceded to de facto Russian-backed separatists.
The British foreign secretary, Liz Truss called for a “doubling down” in a speech on Wednesday night, including further supplies of heavy weapons, and for allies to push for Russian forces to entirely leave Ukraine’s territory, with the country reverting to its pre-2014 borders.
She called Putin “a desperate rogue operator with no interest in international norms”.
“Some argue we shouldn’t provide heavy weapons for fear of provoking something worse. But my view, is that inaction would be the greatest provocation. This is a time for courage not for caution,” she said, admitting that more should have been done to deter an invasion.