NATO steps up preparation in Eastern Europe to reassure allies

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KIEV—NATO said monday that some member countries were putting their forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe to reassure their allies in the region, while Britain joined the United States in ordering the families of diplomats to leave Ukraine, citing “the growing threat from Russia”. ”

The moves signaled growing fears of possible Russian military intervention in Ukraine, as well as growing concerns that the Kremlin is flexing its muscles further. Russian troops and equipment are flocking to neighboring Belarus for drills scheduled for next month which US officials say are not only directed against Ukraine but also intended to intimidate NATO countries on the border Western Belarus such as Poland and the Baltic countries.

US intelligence officials have said they do not believe President Vladimir V. Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine, and Russian diplomats have repeatedly said there were no plans to do so. To do.

But with the month-long negotiations between Moscow and Washington at an apparent stalemate, Russia and the West appear to be talking more and more to each other. Even as the White House prepares written responses to Russia’s demands to limit NATO’s footprint in Europe, the Biden administration plans to deploy several thousand American troops, as well as warships and planes, with NATO allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.

On Monday, NATO and Russia accused each other of stoking tensions.

“All this leads to rising tensions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov said, referring to NATO’s announcement about strengthening its eastern flank. “It’s not happening because of what we, Russia, are doing. It’s all happening because of what NATO and the United States are doing, and as a result of the information they put out.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said in a statement on Monday that NATO would “continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including strengthening the eastern part of the Alliance.” The statement added: “We will always respond to any deterioration in our security environment, including by strengthening our collective defence.”

NATO’s announcement of sending troops and equipment on Monday consolidated statements made by member states over the past few days. They include an offer from France to send troops to Romania under NATO command; Denmark sends F-16 jets to Lithuania; the Netherlands sending two F-35 planes to Bulgaria to help with air policing, and Spain sending a frigate to the Black Sea.

NATO members bordering Russia and Belarus or near the disputed Black Sea to the south have requested more Allied troops and equipment to bolster deterrence against a more aggressive Russia. This would come on top of the approximately 5,000 NATO troops already stationed in Poland and the three Baltic countries who were placed there as an “enhanced forward presence”, in NATO parlance, after annexation. of Crimea in 2014.

Nothing in the NATO statement indicated that additional forces deployed in central, eastern or southern Europe would be used to support Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, in the event of a Russian invasion. Western officials have made it clear that NATO forces will not engage militarily against Russia, and the Biden administration has said that goes for the United States as well.

The mobilization by the West comes in response to what Western countries say is a larger buildup of Russian forces than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Ukraine’s military intelligence calculates that 127,000 troops are massed on the Ukrainian border and thousands more are expected to pour into Belarus for exercises next month, along with tanks, artillery and fighter jets.

But the buildup near Ukraine is only part of what increasingly appears to be a global activation of Russian forces.

Last week, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that more than 140 ships and 10,000 sailors would take part in a series of live-fire naval exercises in February around the world, including on the Irish coast. The goal, according to the ministry, is to “protect Russia’s national interests in the world’s oceans.”

On Monday, the Irish government said he raised his concerns in Moscow of its plans for naval exercises off the coast of Ireland next month.

Even as NATO countries stepped up their preparations, the Ukrainian government tried to project an image of the status quo. He criticized the US decision to order family members of US embassy staff to leave Ukraine, calling it “premature” and the result of “excessive caution”.

But other countries were also showing caution in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Britain has said it will also withdraw family members of diplomats, and Germany and Australia have been reported to be working to withdraw their embassies.

In Kyiv, officials pushed back against the idea that the events were so serious that they forced Western countries to send the families of embassy staff back.

“There has been no serious change in the security situation lately,” Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, said in a statement. “The threat of a new wave of Russian aggression has been ongoing since 2014, and the build-up of Russian forces on the state border began in April last year.”

While the United States has warned that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could order an attack at any time, the Ukrainian government has shown less sense of urgency and at times presented conflicting assessments of the situation. In an address to the nation last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky downplayed the threat, urging Ukrainians to stay calm and not “run out of buckwheat and matches”.

“This danger has existed for more than a day and it has not increased,” he said.

In his statement, Mr Nilolenko, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, suggested that panicking would simply give the Russians a victory as they try to sow discord through information warfare.

“The Russian Federation is currently actively working to destabilize the internal situation in Ukraine,” he said. “In this situation, it is important to soberly assess the risks and maintain calm.”

Despite the withdrawal of family members and some staff, the US and UK embassies have been ordered to remain open. The State Department said the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” but that the United States would “be unable” to evacuate American citizens if Russia invaded Ukraine.

European Union foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels on Monday to discuss Ukraine and work further on a coordinated position in case Russia invades further. There were no plans yet to withdraw European diplomats or their families, said Josep Borrell Fontelles, the bloc’s foreign policy chief. The European Union also announced new financial assistance to Ukraine of some 1.2 billion euros, or $1.36 billion, to help the country during this crisis.

Michael Schwirtz reported from Kiev and Steven Erlanger from Brussels. Anton Troianovsky contributed reporting from Moscow.


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