NATO's secretary general has pledged that the Western military alliance will uphold the "territorial integrity" of Europe. Jens Stoltenberg also described Russia's recent behavior as "deeply troubling."
In a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said the Transatlantic alliance would redouble its commitment to the "collective defense" of its 28 member states.
In particular, he referred to three countries that border on Russia. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are not NATO members, but they are members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC).
"These nations are not buffer zones, they are independent sovereign states," Stoltenberg said. "They have the right to choose their own paths and we will help them on that path."
"Russia's recent use of nuclear rhetoric, exercises and operations are deeply troubling," he said, referring to recent statements by President Vladimir Putin, adding that his "admission that he considered putting Russia's nuclear forces on alert while Russia was annexing Crimea is but one example."
The former Norwegian prime minister also noted that Russia over the past year had "significantly increased the scale, number and range of pro-active flights by nuclear capable bombers across much of the globe."
'Saber rattling' is dangerous
"Russia's nuclear saber-rattling is unjustified, destabilizing and dangerous," he added.
NATO, the European Union and much of the Western world have been at loggerheads with Russia since March of last year when it annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. The EU and the United States have imposed economic sanctions on Russia over the annexation and the Kremlin's alleged support for pro-Russia separatists fighting government troops in the east of Ukraine.
Stoltenberg's speech came a day after he met with US President Barack Obama, who accused Moscow of displaying and "increasingly aggressive posture."
Both leaders called on the separatists and Kyiv to respect a tentative truce meant to bring an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
pfd/jil (AFP, dpa)