NATO strengthens eastern borders amid ‘deteriorating’ situation in Ukraine

NATO is bolstering its eastern borders with land, sea and air forces, the military alliance’s secretary general said, as a Russian invasion of Ukraine looked increasingly likely.

Jens Stoltenberg said the “deteriorating security situation” had led NATO allies to prepare frigates, fighter jets and troops for their “collective defence”.

The US administration was also ready to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe, the NATO chief, a former Norwegian prime minister, warned in a statement that seemed intended to further raise the stakes for the Kremlin.

“I welcome allies who bring additional forces to NATO,” Stoltenberg said. “NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies, including strengthening the eastern part of the alliance. We will always respond to any deterioration in our security environment, including by strengthening our collective defence.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko condemned the NATO deployments, saying the military alliance was “demonizing Russia” in order to “justify military activity on [Nato’s] eastern flank”.

“The language of NATO is the language of threats and military pressure,” he said in remarks published by Russian media. “It’s not new.”

Withdrawal of staff

The development came as the White House and Downing Street announced they had begun withdrawing the families of diplomats from Ukraine, and EU foreign ministers met to discuss the escalating the crisis with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Blinken is due to brief ministers via video link on his talks last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

More than 100,000 Russian soldiers and heavy weapons have been mobilized on the Ukrainian border.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would consider withdrawing its staff after talks with Blinken, but was not yet aware of an urgent need.

The new NATO military capability announced for the east includes the deployment by Denmark of a frigate in the Baltic Sea and four F-16 fighter jets in Lithuania.

Spain said it was sending ships to join NATO naval forces and was considering sending fighter jets to Bulgaria. Emmanuel Macron has expressed his government’s desire to send French troops to Romania under NATO command.

NATO has increased its presence on the territory of its eastern member states in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. There are currently four multinational battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States.

At their meeting in Brussels, EU ministers are expected to reiterate their warning of a severe economic price to be paid by Russia if it invades Ukraine, after a wavering in Berlin.

German Navy chief Kay-Achim Schönbach has resigned from his post after it emerged he had said Vladimir Putin deserved respect.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, said Germany’s new government was in a “difficult situation” after it started “just a month ago”.

But he warned that the EU and US must show a united front. “We are convinced that a real war is a likely possibility,” he said. “The penalties must be unbearable.”

navel exercises

Russia continued preparations for extensive naval exercises on Monday as the Baltic Fleet announced that two corvettes had set sail to take part in the military drills.

The Kremlin has also sent six amphibious landing ships to the Mediterranean Sea as part of the drills, which will include 140 ships and more than 10,000 Russian troops.

Russia is also expected to hold joint military exercises in Belarus in February. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Monday he would deploy “a whole army contingent” to the border with Ukraine, alleging that “the Ukrainians have started gathering troops [there]. I do not understand why. – Guardian

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