NATO took the first step Wednesday to boost its deterrence against Russian aggression in the east of the alliance, as it seeks to juggle what Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the "most challenging" security threats in a generation.

Relations between NATO and Russia in the last two years have reached their worst level since the Cold War, following Moscow's actions in Ukraine, where it is accused of supporting pro-Russian separatists and has annexed the Crimean peninsula.

But the alliance must also stay "agile" and be prepared for other threats, Stoltenberg warned. NATO is confronted with challenges including the conflict in Syria, the migration crisis this has triggered and the spread of terrorism.

NATO has previously taken steps to reassure its eastern members, who have felt particularly threatened by Russia. The new plan aims to go further, with a combination of flexible ground forces and rapidly deployable reinforcements to deter any potential aggressor.

"NATO defence ministers agreed on an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our alliance," Stoltenberg said following talks in Brussels. "This will be multinational to make clear that an attack against one ally is an attack against all," he added.

The new defence framework will include rotational troop deployments, exercises and infrastructure to pre-position equipment and rapidly deploy reinforcements, Stoltenberg said.

The details - including troop numbers and national contributions - are to be hashed out by military planners over the coming months, ahead of NATO's Warsaw summit in July.

As part of this effort, US President Barack Obama announced his intention last week to increase Washington's funding of European security fourfold in 2017, to 3.4 billion dollars. The United States hopes other allies will follow suit.

The new initiative could see up to six thousand troops deployed on a rotational basis across Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states, NATO sources have said on condition of anonymity. The alliance is already setting up regional hubs in these countries, but they are each staffed with around 50 soldiers.

"We will have as much presence in the East as needed," Stoltenberg said Wednesday, while adding that the aim is to strike a balance between troops on the ground and quickly deployable reinforcements, as well as hoping to keep open a dialogue with Moscow.

The alliance has been at pains to respect an agreement struck with Russia in 1997 to refrain from the "additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces" in Eastern Europe.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO of inflating fears of a Russian threat to justify its existence and to expand eastwards, in comments to the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, carried by TASS news agency.

NATO should "stay within its borders," he said, while criticizing the alliance for deciding last year to invite Montenegro to join. NATO's actions are creating a "destabilizing factor for global stability," Lavrov warned.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.