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NATO steps up preparations in Eastern Europe

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NATO steps up preparations in Eastern Europe

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KYIV – NATO said on Monday that member nations were putting their forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe to reassure allies in the region, as Britain stepped up. joined with the United States to order families of diplomats to leave Ukraine, citing “the growing threat from Russia.

The moves signaled growing fears of possible Russian military intervention in Ukraine, as well as growing concerns that the Kremlin is flexing its muscles further. Russian troops and equipment are flocking to neighboring Belarus for exercises scheduled for next month which US officials say are not only directed against Ukraine but also NATO countries on the western border. of Belarus, such as Poland and the Baltic countries.

On Monday, the Irish government said it had raised concerns with Moscow over its plan to carry out naval exercises off the Irish coast next month.

Last week, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that more than 140 ships and 10,000 sailing vessels would take part in a series of live-fire naval exercises in February across the world, including in the Irish Sea. The goal, according to the ministry, is to “protect Russia’s national interests in the world’s oceans.”

“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including strengthening the eastern part of the Alliance,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday. “We will always respond to any deterioration in our security environment, including by strengthening our collective defence.”

Nothing in the NATO statement indicated that additional forces deployed in Eastern Europe would be used to support Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, in the event of a Russian invasion. Western officials have made it clear that NATO forces will not engage militarily against Russia.

Aleksandr V. Grushko, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, said the new NATO deployments were “nothing new”, showing that the alliance “speaks the language of threats and military pressure”, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

The Ukrainian government on Monday criticized the State Department’s decision to order family members of US embassy staff to leave Ukraine, calling it “premature” and the result of “excessive caution” .

The moves by the US and UK embassies have clashed with efforts by Ukrainian leaders to project an image of the status quo, even as Russian troops, tanks and fighter jets continue to gather en masse around the country’s borders.

“There has been no serious change in the security situation lately,” Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, said in a statement. “The threat of a new wave of Russian aggression has been ongoing since 2014, and the build-up of Russian forces on the state border began in April last year.”

While the United States has warned that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could order an attack at any time, the Ukrainian government has shown less sense of urgency and at times presented conflicting assessments of the situation. In an address to the nation last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky downplayed the threat, urging Ukrainians to stay calm and not “run out of buckwheat and matches”.

“This danger has existed for more than a day and it has not increased,” he said.

In his statement, Mr Nilolenko, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, suggested that panicking would simply give the Russians a victory as they try to sow discord through information warfare.

“The Russian Federation is currently actively working to destabilize the internal situation in Ukraine,” he said. “In this situation, it is important to soberly assess the risks and maintain calm.”

Despite the withdrawal of family members and some staff, the US and UK embassies have been ordered to remain open. The State Department said the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” but that the United States would “be unable” to evacuate American citizens if Russia invaded Ukraine.

Anton Troyanovsky contributed reporting from Moscow.

NATO steps up preparations in Eastern Europe

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