NATO is concerned about a Russian build-up of heavy equipment and troops near Ukraine’s northern border, not far from Belarus. Ukraine says Moscow maintains about 90,000 troops in the region after extensive war games in western Russia earlier this year, and they can be easily mobilized.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that his country’s intelligence service had uncovered plans for a Russian-backed coup. Russia denied the claim and refused to confirm that it was planning to invade Ukraine.
“You can discuss whether the probability of an incursion is 20 percent or 80 percent, it doesn’t matter,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Riga, Latvia, after presiding over talks between NATO foreign ministers focused on the threat posed by Russia.
“There is no certainty, no clarity about Russian intentions precisely and they may actually evolve and change.” Referring to Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea in Ukraine, Stoltenberg added, “They’ve done it before.”
The United States shared intelligence with European allies who warned of a possible invasion. European diplomats acknowledge the presence of Russian troop movements, but some countries have played down the risk of an imminent invasion on orders from Moscow.
“We are deeply concerned about the movements we have seen along the Ukrainian border. We know that Russia often mixes these efforts with domestic efforts to destabilize a country. This is part of the planning, and we are monitoring it closely,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said.
Blinken also warned that “any further aggression will lead to dire consequences.”
For his part, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that “Russia will have to pay a heavy price for any form of aggression.”
“NATO’s support for Ukraine has not ceased, and its independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty are not under discussion. Sincere and sustainable de-escalation efforts, which can only pass through the course of talks, are now more important,” he added.