NATO plans for new possible battlegroups in Europe amid Russia tensions: Stoltenberg

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NATO tasked its commanders to draw up plans for a deployment of battlegroups to the alliance's southeastern areas in response to Russia's military build-up around Ukraine, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.

“Ministers decided to develop options to further strengthen NATO's deterrence and defense, including to consider establishing new NATO battlegroups in central and eastern and southeastern Europe,” he said.

“Our military commanders will now work on the details and report back within weeks,” he added.

International tensions remain high as the US said 150,000 Russian troops are massed to the north, south and east of Ukraine, and Western officials said a Russian invasion could still happen at any moment.

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“So far we do not see any sign of de-escalation on the ground. No withdrawals of troops or equipment on the ground. This of course may change, however, what we see today is that Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack with high end capabilities from Crimea to Belarus. This is the biggest concentration of forces in Europe since the Cold War,” Stoltenberg said.

“Moscow has made it clear that it is prepared to contest the fundamental principles that have underpinned our security for decades and to do so by using force. I regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe.”

“If they [Russia] use force, it will come with a high price,” Stoltenberg stressed.

NATO defense ministers issued a statement saying they are “deploying additional land forces in the eastern part of the Alliance, as well as additional maritime and air assets, as announced by Allies, and have increased the readiness of.. forces.”

“Our measures are and remain preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory. We are prepared to further strengthen our defensive and deterrent posture to respond to all contingencies,” they added.

What does Russia say?

Russia insists it has no intention of invading Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on Wednesday: “We urge the Western countries to stop whipping up anti-Russian hysteria, which is actually already anti-Ukrainian as well, we urge them to stop pumping Kiev with weapons. These actions negatively affect both the settlement of the conflict in Donbass and the general situation on the track of security and stability in Europe,” state news agency TASS reported.

Moscow claims it is “ready for talks that the West offered to conduct on certain security issues if it doesn’t mean putting aside the country’s crucial demands such as halting NATO’s eastward expansion,” according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“We believe it’s a positive step and will be ready for this dialogue but not at the expense of clarification of the principled issues of our position, which concern the need to put a stop to NATO’s headlong expansion to the east and look for other ways of providing security for all the Euro-Atlantic countries,” he added.

NATO said it would not send troops to fight Russia in Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance. However, thousands of US, UK and NATO troops have been sent to strengthen the defenses of Eastern European countries, including Poland and the Baltic states.

Russia accuses NATO of having an “expansionist” agenda and moving closer to its borders.

Also, one of Moscow’s demands during the flurry of diplomatic negotiations that have been taking place over the past few weeks has been for Ukraine to drop its ambitions of NATO membership. However, NATO rejected the Russian demand and stressed that Kyiv has the right to make its own decisions.

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