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NATO chief says European security faces 'new normal'

February 16, 2022

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance saw no de-escalation from Russia around Ukraine's borders. As NATO defense ministers met in Brussels, Romania is prepared to host a French-led battlegroup.

A Ukrainian serviceman carries an anti-tank weapons in Donetsk
Ukraine is still on high alert for a potential Russian invasion Image: picture alliance/Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that NATO continues to see an increase in Russia's military buildup on Ukraine's borders even as Moscow made gestures to show it wishes to continue on the path of diplomacy.

Stoltenberg said the alliance was moving to establish a French-led battlegroup in Romania to contend with what he described as the "new normal" in European security.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Europe confronts a 'new normal' due to Russia's actions on Ukraine's bordersImage: John Thys/AFP

"The new normal is that Russia is willing to contest some fundamental principles of our security," Stoltenberg said.

He added, "We don't know what will happen, but we know what has already happened."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later concurred that his country saw no change in Russia's military posture on its borders. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal took to Twitter to thank the European Parliament for €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) in financial assistance. 

What have the US and Russia said?

Stoltenberg's updates come ahead of a scheduled call Wednesday between US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Of concern to both leaders is something the NATO chief underscored, namely that Russia has shown a willingness to use force to coerce sovereign nations and get NATO to compromise on its core principles.

After Stoltenberg concluded his remarks, the Russian state-run RIA news agency said that the Russian foreign ministry was "no longer interested" in the statements of the NATO Secretary-General.

Being tested by Russia, how is NATO holding up?

What will defense ministers discuss at NATO headquarters?

Two days of meetings are scheduled at NATO headquarters in Brussels for defense ministers to hash out how to strengthen the alliance's eastern flank.

The UK said Wednesday it would be doubling the size of its deployment to Estonia and sending tanks and armored fighting vehicles to the Baltic country.

The proposed battlegroup in Romania would mirror similar deployments in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as Poland. 

What is happening on NATO's eastern flank?

The US has already begun an enhanced deployment of 5,000 additional troops to Poland and Romania on the news of Russia's military escalation along Ukraine's borders.

Smith: No evidence Russia is de-escalating

In Estonia, the country's director of foreign intelligence Mikk Marran told a press briefing announcing his agency's annual report that he expects a limited invasion of Ukraine that would put pressure on the Baltic states. 

"Right now, our assessment is that they would avoid cities with large populations, as it takes a lot of troops to control those areas. But there is no clear understanding of what avenue the Russian troops might exploit," Marran said.

Scholz calls avoiding war a 'damned duty'

What is Ukraine's position?

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine reacted to news of a possible invasion of his nation earlier in the week by declaring Wednesday "Unity Day" to rally the nation in the face of a credible military threat in a way that says as much about his roots as a comedian as it does his country.

Women hold Ukrainian flags as they gather to celebrate Unity Day in Odessa
Across Ukraine, people demonstrated patriotically in the face of a possible large-scale Russian invasion of their countryImage: Emilio Morenatti/AP/picture alliance

He later had to clarify to the international media that what he called the day of Russia's invasion was said ironically.

Speaking in Mariupol, the eastern port city, on Wednesday, Zelenskyy said, "We are not afraid of forecasts, we are not afraid of anyone, of any enemies."

He added, "We will defend ourselves."

Zelesnkiy tours a military base in Rivne, Ukraine.
Zelenskiy was stoic as more than 100,000 Russian troops stood amassed on his country's borders.Image: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/dpa/picture alliance

Zelenskyy spent part of "Unity Day" observing  military drills as soldiers trained to use Javelin antitank missiles in western Rivne, alongside military observers from NATO member states like Poland and the UK.

In the capital, Kyiv authorities gave a tour of the bomb shelter beneath the city's central train station along with a fortified central control system to keep the transit system moving in the event of a crisis.

Ukraine also formally appealed to the UN Security Council to discuss a resolution in the Russian Duma to formally recognize occupied Luhansk and Donetsk.

ar/wd (AFP, Reuters)