Nato mulls reinforcing troops as EU says crisis in Ukraine ‘created by Moscow’

Alliance chief says Russia is continuing its military build-up near Ukraine border

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, French defence minister Florence Parly and US defence secretary Lloyd Austin on the first day of a Nato defence ministers’ meeting at Nato headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

Nato is to consider increasing its forces in central and eastern Europe in response to tensions with Moscow over Ukraine, its secretary general said on Wednesday, expressing scepticism that Russia was pulling back its troops.

It came as defence ministers for the 30-strong western military alliance met in Brussels to co-ordinate how to respond to the gathering of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders, which has spurred warnings of an imminent invasion.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that Russia "continues the military build-up" despite an announcement of a partial pullback by Moscow, which released a video showing tanks and army trucks on the move.

“Russia has amassed an invasion force on the borders of Ukraine,” Mr Stoltenberg said, adding that there were no signs on the ground of any diminishment of Russian forces he estimated to number well over 100,000.


Nevertheless, he noted grounds for “cautious optimism” due to Moscow’s continued engagement in diplomacy. “While we continue to work for the best, we must also be prepared for the worst,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

Over the next few weeks Nato military commanders are to examine the possibility of establishing new battlegroups in central, eastern, and southeastern Europe, the alliance announced. France has offered to lead a battlegroup in Romania.

In a joint statement the Nato defence ministers said that Russia’s actions constituted a “serious threat” to security, and warned that the alliance was “prepared to further strengthen our defensive and deterrent posture to respond to all contingencies”.

"We are gravely concerned by the very large scale, unprovoked and unjustified Russian military build-up in and around Ukraine and in Belarus, " the statement read.

“We urge Russia, in the strongest possible terms, to choose the path of diplomacy, and to immediately reverse its build-up and withdraw its forces from Ukraine in accordance with its international obligations and commitments.”

Cold War

Mr Stoltenberg said it was the “new normal” that Russia was prepared to contest Nato’s security principles, and described the build up of troops as the largest in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

Russia has accused Nato of being responsible for increasing tensions and dismissed warnings it may launch a fresh invasion of Ukraine, where a conflict between Kyiv and pro-Russian forces has rumbled on since Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

But earlier on Wednesday European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament that the crisis "has been created by Moscow".

“We have not chosen confrontation, but we are prepared for it,” she said, warning that if Moscow chose to invade Ukraine “tough sanctions would kick in, with dire consequences on the Russian economy and its prospect of modernisation”.

She told MEPs that events had demonstrated the urgency for the European Union to "diversify our energy sources and must get rid of our dependency on Russian gas".

The security situation is expected to overshadow a joint European Union-African Union summit devoted to strengthening ties between the continents this week. European leaders have convened an informal meeting before the start of the summit on Thursday dedicated to discussing tensions with Russia.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times