NATO may station permanently additional troops in Eastern Europe, the alliance’s top military commander said, adding that it would be a defensive measure. He cited “a new paradigm” demonstrated by Russia in Crimea and Ukraine.
Currently the alliance has organized a rotation of aircraft and warships in Eastern Europe and sent small contingents of ground troops for military drills to the Baltic States, Poland and Romania. But permanent deployment should be considered, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove said Tuesday.
"We need to look at our responsiveness, our readiness and then our positioning of forces to be able to address this new paradigm that we have seen demonstrated in Crimea and now on the eastern border of Ukraine," he said.
NATO members are to gather for a summit in Wales in early September, but in the run-up to it NATO commanders, defense ministers and foreign ministers would look at "tougher questions" about whether the alliance had the right footprint in Europe, Breedlove told a news conference in Ottawa.
"We are taking measures that should be very easily discerned as being defensive in nature. This is about assuring our allies, not provoking Russia, and we are communicating that at every level," said Breedlove, who earlier on Monday said he didn’t think Russia would invade Ukraine.
The paradigm Breedlove was referring to is apparently the alleged use of Russian special operation troops in Ukraine's Donetsk region. The accusations are regularly voiced by Kiev and some western countries, including the US, but so far all evidence presented proved to be unconvincing or false.
Journalists covering the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine report that while armed militias defying Kiev in eastern Ukraine have strong ethnic, cultural and religious ties with Russia, they found no evidence of them being Russian troops.
Russia voiced objections to NATO's build-up of troops in Eastern Europe amid the Ukrainian conflict. Officials say that a permanent deployment would only prove Moscow's assessment of NATO's action as hostile.
“I believe this decision would be taken and it would pose a real threat to our security. It would be a big, serious international scandal, but I know they would do it,” said Frants Klintsevich, deputy chair of the Russian State Duma’s Defense Committee. “Americans are taking all bets off, and Ukraine is just a pretext. They don't care about people, about what happens in Ukraine.”
“Those statements mean that masks are now completely off. It was clear even before that the deployment of the anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe indicated the continuation of the alliance expansion eastwards,” agreed Russian Senator Dmitry Sablin, who is a member of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee.
Russia’s Defense Ministry, in the meantime, is calm about the suggested NATO troops stationing, Kommersant writes citing a source in the ministry. “Introduction of a substantial permanent contingent in Eastern Europe is associated with significant financial costs, and we believe that the budget of the alliance will not cope with it,” the source said, adding that all the countries “where NATO can theoretically accommodate their troops” are bordering Russia’s Western Military District, well-equipped with air defense systems and ground force weapons.
Earlier US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Ukrainian crisis poses a threat to West's global leadership and that the US and Europe must join forces to oppose them with sanctions and a downgrading of EU's trade relations with Russia.