Nato is not seeking confrontation with Russia and does not want another Cold War, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has told the BBC.
The planned deployment of 4,000 extra troops to eastern Europe aims to prevent, not provoke conflict, he said.
Despite current tensions, the military alliance does not see Russia as a threat, he added.
Relations between the west and Russia are at their lowest point since the Cold War.
The US and European Union imposed sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.
The war in Syria has also been a flashpoint for tensions, with key western powers accusing Russia of war crimes in its bombardment of opposition-held areas in support of the Syrian government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected those allegations, and says the idea that Russia has aggressive military designs in Europe as “ridiculous”.
Multi-national Nato battalions made up of 1,000 troops each will be deployed to Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania early next year.
They will be led by the US, Britain, Canada and Germany.
But rather than seeking to confront Russia, Nato continues “to strive for a more cooperative and constructive relationship”, Mr Stoltenberg said.
“But we have to do that based on collective defence – deterrence.”
While Nato did not see any imminent threat from Russia, it was responding to its actions in Ukraine, he said, as well as what he called the use of nuclear rhetoric to intimidate European nations.
Nato says it believes Russia has about 330,000 troops stationed near its western border.
Earlier this week, plans for Russian warships to dock at a Spanish port were cancelled after Nato allies voiced concern that they could be used to bomb civilians in Syria.