BRUSSELS, Belgium (NBC) – NATO member countries examined new ways to bolster the defenses of nations on the organization’s eastern flank as Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine fuels one of Europe’s biggest security crises in decades.
Over two days at NATO headquarters in Brussels, defense ministers were to discuss how and when to rapidly dispatch troops and equipment to countries closest to Russia and the Black Sea region should Moscow order an invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his counterparts also plan to weigh the possibility of stationing troops longer-term in southeast Europe, possibly starting later this year. The troops would mirror the presence of some 5,000 service members that have been stationed in allies Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland on a rotating basis in recent years.
The U.S. has started to deploy 5,000 troops to Poland and Romania. Britain is sending hundreds of soldiers to Poland and offering more warships and planes. Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway are sending additional troops to Lithuania. Denmark and Spain are providing jets for air policing.
Over the last four months, Russia is estimated to have amassed around 60 percent of its entire land forces and a significant portion of its air force to the north and east of Ukraine, as well as in neighboring Belarus.
Moscow has appeared ready to repeat its 2014 invasion of Ukraine but on a grander scale.
Russian President Vladimir Putin wants NATO to stop expanding. He demands that the U.S-led alliance pull its troops and equipment out of countries that joined after 1997, almost half of NATO’s 30-strong ranks.
NATO said it cannot accept his terms. Its founding treaty commits to an “open door” policy for European countries that want to join, and a mutual defense clause guarantees that all members will come to the defense of an ally under threat.
Ukraine, though, is not a member and NATO, as an organization, is not willing to come to its defense.
Over the last two days, Russia has said that it was returning some troops and weapons to bases, but Stoltenberg said the allies saw no concrete sign of a drawdown and concern that Russia might invade Ukraine persists.
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