BRUSSELS - NATO is sending part of its naval rapid reaction force to the Baltic Sea as part of a drive to step up the defence of eastern European allies in response to the crisis in Ukraine, the military alliance said on Thursday.

Separately, Canada said it had offered six CF-18 fighter planes as its contribution to NATO efforts to beef up its presence in eastern Europe and reassure nervous allies there that NATO would protect them in the event of any Russian aggression.

NATO, the 28-member alliance dominated by the United States, has made clear it does not plan to get involved militarily in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.

But it announced plans on Wednesday to send more ships, planes and troops to eastern Europe to reassure members of the alliance, particularly the ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics, that are worried by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

NATO gave only a broad outline of its plans on Wednesday but some details began to emerge on Thursday.

A multinational group of five small ships - four minesweepers and a support vessel - will be sent to the Baltic Sea soon and will stay "for the foreseeable future", a spokesman for NATO's Maritime Command said.


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