NATO said Monday that it is increasing its readiness and sending more ships and fighter jets to eastern Europe, as Ireland warned that new Russian war maneuvers off its coast are not welcome given tensions over whether President Vladimir Putin plans to strike Ukraine.
The military group led by the United States announced that it is bolstering its “deterrence” presence in the Baltic Sea region. Denmark is sending a frigate and F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania; Spain is sending warships and fighter jets to Bulgaria, and France is preparing to send troops to Romania.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated the alliance will “take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies.”
“We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defense.”
The declaration came as European Union foreign ministers sought to reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine by putting on a good show of unity in favor of the country and burying concerns about disagreements over how best to respond to any Russian invasion.
“We are showing unprecedented unity about the situation in Ukraine, with the strong coordination with the U.S.,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing their meeting, told reporters in Brussels.
When asked if the EU will follow the United States’ lead and force the families of European embassy workers in Ukraine to leave, Borrell responded, “We are not going to do the same thing.” He added that he would like to hear more from Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the matter.
On Monday, the United Kingdom announced the departure of several ambassadors and their dependents from its embassy in Kyiv. The action was made “in response to the growing threat from Russia,” according to the Foreign Office.
Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, called the US decision “premature” and an indication of “excessive caution.” Russia, he claims, is creating terror among Ukrainians and outsiders in order to destabilize the country.
Germany is monitoring developments, but German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed that “we must not contribute to unsettling the situation further; we need to continue to support the Ukrainian government very clearly and above all maintain the stability of the country.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he would warn his partners at the EU summit that Russia planned to perform war games 240 kilometers (150 miles) off Ireland’s southwest coast, in international waters but within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone.
“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.”
According to diplomats and officials, the ministers will reiterate Europe’s criticism of Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine, which includes an estimated 100,000 troops, tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment, during Monday’s meeting, which Blinken will attend virtually.
They’ll continue calls for discussion, including through the European-backed “Normandy format,” which managed to de-escalate tensions in 2015, a year after Putin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed the lives of nearly 14,000 people and continues to rage.
Over the weekend, some of the EU’s closest allies — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — revealed that they intend to transfer anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles built in the United States to Ukraine, a decision backed by the US.
However, there have been concerns voiced about the EU’s unity. Diverse political, economic, and energy concerns have traditionally divided the 27-nation bloc in its attitude to Moscow. Around 40% of the EU’s natural gas imports originate from Russia, with much of it passing through Ukraine via pipelines.
Gas prices have risen dramatically, and despite the high costs, the president of the International Energy Agency has stated that Russian energy giant Gazprom is already lowering its supplies to the EU in late 2021. Putin claims that Gazprom is adhering to its contractual responsibilities and is not exerting pressure on Europe.
The two great powers of the EU appear to be the most cautious. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which is finished but not yet operational, has become a bargaining chip for Germany. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has once again rebuffed proposals for an EU conference with Putin.
France and Germany originally questioned US intelligence reports that Moscow was planning an invasion late last year.
Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach, the chief of the German navy, resigned late Saturday after coming under fire for declaring that Ukraine will not reclaim the Crimean Peninsula and indicating that Putin deserved “respect.”
Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, is to meet with Putin next week to discuss a Russian-backed project to expand a nuclear power facility in Hungary.
Nonetheless, diplomats and officials claimed that the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, is working on tough measures. They were, however, hesitant to identify what the measures might be or what behavior by Russia would trigger them.
The goal, they said, is to match the concerns Putin has sown about his intentions for Ukraine with uncertainty about what retaliatory European action may look like or when it might occur.
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