NATO warns Russia over Ukraine military build-up

Jens Stoltenberg urges Russia to be transparent as NATO monitors ‘unusual’ concentration of forces close to Ukraine border.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba give a press conference in Brussels, Belgium [File: Francisco Seco/Reuters]

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has urged Russia to be more transparent about its military activities near Ukraine but stopped short of suggesting that Moscow might be preparing to invade its former Soviet neighbour.

“NATO is closely monitoring the large and unusual concentrations of Russian forces close to Ukraine’s borders,” Stoltenberg tweeted on Monday. “We call on Russia to be transparent, prevent escalation & reduce tensions,” he added.

Ukraine has said that Russia kept tens of thousands of troops and equipment near their common border after conducting war games earlier this year.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has supported a separatist rebellion that broke out that year in eastern Ukraine and still controls territory there.

The United States has warned the European Union to be wary of Russia’s intentions, but EU diplomats said that while they have noticed Moscow’s military build-up, they did not believe that Russia might launch action soon.

“It is important to prevent escalations and reduce tensions,” Stoltenberg told reporters after talks in Brussels with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Asked whether he fears a possible invasion, Stoltenberg said, “What we see is a significant, large Russian military build-up. We see an unusual concentration of troops. And we know that Russia has been willing to use these types of military capabilities before to conduct aggressive actions against Ukraine.”

“I think it’s important also that we don’t now increase tensions, but we have to be clear-eyed, we need to be realistic about the challenges we face,” he said.

The Russian troop movements have in recent days spurred fears of a possible attack. Moscow has dismissed such suggestions as inflammatory.

Ukraine’s defence ministry has said that about 90,000 Russian troops are stationed not far from their border and in rebel-controlled areas in Ukraine’s east. It said units of the Russian 41st army have remained in Yelnya, a town 260 kilometres (about 160 miles) north of the Ukrainian border.

Kuleba said, “We have to be ready for all scenarios, for all options,” and called for help from the 30-country military organisation “to strengthen the resilience of Ukraine.”

“It can go either way,” Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, told reporters, also on Monday, on the margins of a meeting with his European Union counterparts.

The West cannot exclude a Russian attack on Ukraine while international attention is focused on the Belarus migration crisis, or that Russia establishes a permanent military presence in Belarus, he said.

“I would not exclude that as a possibility,” he said.

Source: News Agencies