NATO steps up military presence in eastern Europe

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NATO steps up military presence in eastern Europe

​NATO announced Monday that its members would deploy additional ships and fighter jets to eastern Europe as a high-stakes military standoff with Russia grinds on.

To beef up “deterrence” in the region, the alliance said Denmark would send a frigate to the Baltic Sea and was ready to dispatch four F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania. Spain would deploy ships to join NATO naval forces and was considering sending fighter jets to Bulgaria, while France has said it is willing to send troops to Romania.

Additionally, the Netherlands is sending two F-35 fighters to Bulgaria beginning in April.

“I welcome Allies contributing additional forces to NATO,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said​ in a statement. “NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the Alliance. We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defen​s​e​.”

​Ukraine shares borders with four NATO countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said​.
Johanna Geron/REUTERS

NATO’s announcement follows reports over the weekend that President Biden is weighing deploying as many as 5,000 US troops to eastern European countries, with a decision expected as soon as this week. 

​​At the same time, European Union foreign ministers signaled a common resolve to counter Moscow’s military aggression.

“We are showing unprecedented unity about the situation in Ukraine, with the strong coordination with the US,” EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell​ said after a meeting in Brussels.

Swedish soldiers of the Gotland's Regiment patrol in armored vehicles.
President Biden is weighing deploying as many as 5,000 US troops to eastern European countries.
Karl Melander/EPA

​But unlike the US, which will begin evacuating family members of embassy personnel in Ukraine, Borrell said: “We are not going to do the same thing.”​

Borrell added he is waiting to hear from Secretary of State Antony Blinken.​

On a conference call with reporters Sunday night, a senior State Department official reiterated that “military action by Russia could come at any time” and urged Americans who wished to leave Ukraine to do so as soon as possible.

“The United States government will not be in a position to evacuate US citizens [if Russia invades], so US citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly, including by availing themselves of commercial options,” the official said.

The UK also said it was planning on withdrawing some diplomats from Ukraine because of the “growing threat from Russia.”​

Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, called the decision a “premature” step and a sign of “excessive caution.”

​Meanwhile, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney attempted to warn Russia against conducting war games 150 miles off the country’s southwest coast.

A civilian participant in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit.
A civilian participant in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

“This isn’t a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what’s happening with and in Ukraine.” Coveney said. “The fact that they are choosing to do it on the western borders, if you like, of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that in our view is simply not welcome and not wanted right now, particularly in the coming weeks.”

Russia, which has amassed more than 100,000 troops and heavy military equipment along its border with Ukraine, accused the West of stirring “hysteria” and increasing tensions by ramping up its military presence in the region.

“This is not happening because of what we, Russia, are doing,” said Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov.​ “This is all happening because of what NATO and the US are doing and due to the information they are spreading.”

Diplomatic talks have stalled over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands that the US and its allies provide written assurances that they will not allow Ukraine or other former Soviet bloc states to ​become NATO members. 

EU ministers warned Russia that it would face “massive consequences and severe costs” via punishing political and economic sanctions if it attacks.

On Sunday, Blinken dismissed calls from some Republicans to impose sanctions immediately against Russia as a deterrent.

“When it comes to sanctions, the purpose of those sanctions is to deter Russian aggression,” America’s top diplomat told CNN’s “State of the Union”. “And so if they are triggered now, you lose the deterrent effect.”

A poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin  is used as target practice.
Diplomatic talks have stalled over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands about barring Ukraine from joining NATO.
Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

Blinken added that high-level talks have already occurred between US, European and Russia officials over Putin’s demand for guarantees and put the ball in the Russian leader’s court.

“All of the things that we’re doing, including building up in a united way with Europe, massive consequences for Russia, is designed to factor into President Putin’s calculus and to deter and dissuade them from taking aggressive action, even as we pursue diplomacy at the same time,” he said.​

With Post wires​

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