NATO sees no sign of a Russian withdrawal from the Ukrainian border, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday, and is considering plans to increase its own forces in Eastern Europe in response to a “new normal” of aggression, threats and coercion from Russia.
“So far, we see no signs of de-escalation on the ground – no withdrawal of troops or equipment,” Stoltenberg told a press conference after the first session of a meeting of two days of Allied Defense Ministers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.
Stoltenberg said the allies had taken note of public comments from senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, about their intention to withdraw from the border, where they have assembled more than 100,000 troops, armor and sophisticated weaponry. But, Stoltenberg said, Western intelligence had noted no change.
“What we see today is Russia maintaining a massive invasion force ready to attack, with top-notch capabilities from Crimea to Belarus,” he said.
Moscow emissaries scoffed at what they called Western hysteria. “Wars in Europe rarely start on Wednesdays,” Russia’s EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov told German newspaper Welt, referring to US warnings last week that an attack would occur as early as Wednesday.
“If you bring charges — especially very serious charges against Russia — you carry the burden of providing evidence,” Chizhov said. “Otherwise, it’s defamation. He added: “So where is the evidence?”
Western officials said they were sharing more intelligence than ever to draw attention to and deter the Russian threat.
But while Russia did not invade, Stoltenberg said the allies were adjusting to face a constant new threat.
“I regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe,” he said, adding that defense ministers had asked military commanders to draw up plans to position more forces on the eastern flank of alliance, potentially including a new French-led battlegroup in Romania.
NATO has already positioned four battlegroups in Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in response to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014. “Our military commanders will now work out the details and report back within weeks,” Stoltenberg said.
“We know Russia’s track record of using force against its neighbours,” he said.
Insisting on what he meant by the new normal, Stoltenberg said Russia was clearly ready to use force and coercion to rewrite Europe’s security architecture.
“They used force, the greatest concentration of combat forces since the end of the Cold War, to support and try to intimidate other countries in Europe, to somehow respect or accept Russian demands. “, did he declare. “We don’t know what will happen, but we know what has already happened. And it is that Russia has demonstrated its willingness to use force, to try to coerce other countries.
Stoltenberg insisted that any new positioning of NATO troops would be defensive, and he insisted that the allies would remain on high alert until the withdrawal of Russian forces was verified.
“What we see on the ground is not a withdrawal of troops and forces, of materiel,” he said. “But in reality what we are seeing is Russian troops moving into position. And we saw the cyberattack. And these are the kinds of actions and measures that we believe will precede a greater military intervention in Ukraine. So of course it’s worrying. »