NATO on Thursday voiced concern over Russia’s recent military deployment in Belarus, urging Moscow to take steps to de-escalate tensions.
“NATO continues to call on Russia to de-escalate. Any further Russian aggression would have severe consequences and carry a heavy price,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a joint news conference with North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski in Brussels.
“We remain ready to engage in meaningful dialogue and have conveyed a written proposal to Russia,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO is also ready to discuss “how to reduce risks,” he further stated.
“But NATO will not compromise on core principles, the right of every nation to choose his own path and NATO’s ability to protect and defend all allies,” Stoltenberg added.
“We are committed to finding a political solution to the crisis,” he said, but cautioned: “We have to be prepared for the worst.”
Stoltenberg also said he discussed with Kovacevski Russia’s continued military buildup in and around Ukraine.
“Over the last days we have seen a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus. This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War,” the NATO chief said.
“A wide range of modern military capabilities” was deployed to Belarus, he continued. “All this will be combined with Russia’s annual nuclear forces exercise expected to take place this month.”
The military deployment included an expected 30,000 combat troops, Spetsnaz special operation forces, fighter jets including SU-35, Iskander dual-capable missiles, and S-400 air defense systems, Stoltenberg detailed.
On the US announcement of additional troop deployment to Eastern Europe, he said: “This is a powerful signal of US commitment.”
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that 1,000 US troops will be moved from Germany to Romania, while another 2,000 soldiers will be sent from the US state of North Carolina to Germany and Poland.
“We have already increased readiness of the NATO Response Force and we are considering the deployment of additional NATO battleships to the southeastern part of the Alliance,” Stoltenberg added.
For his part, Kovacevski said that the recent tension is “a threat to European and international security”.
“As a NATO ally, we join calls to Russia to de-escalate and pursue diplomatic dialogue,” he said.
The US, with its European allies, has accused Russia of setting the stage for an invasion of Ukraine after concentrating more than 120,000 troops, significant artillery and tanks on the border.
Moscow has denied it is preparing to invade and said its troops are there for exercises.
A similar buildup has taken place in Belarus.
The US said Monday that Russia is seeking to increase its troop presence in Belarus six-fold by early February to 30,000 armed forces.
Addressing the UN Security Council session on simmering Ukraine tensions, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Washington’s UN envoy, said Russia has already deployed 5,000 troops to Belarus alongside short-range ballistic missiles, special forces, and anti-aircraft batteries, and has stationed well over 100,000 troops inside its border near Ukraine.