NATO's secretary general has cautioned Russia and Belarus against destabilizing activities. Belarus will be on the agenda of the upcoming NATO summit to be attended by the US president and German chancellor.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Moscow and Minsk Sunday against activities that would destabilize the alliance's eastern flank in an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag ahead of the NATO summit in a week's time.
Belarus borders the NATO member states of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The warning comes after Minsk diverted a Ryanair flight traveling from Athens to Vilnius two weeks ago in order to detain a dissident journalist, Raman Pratasevich, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who were on board.
Raman Pratasevich appears in a taped forced confession that aired on Belarus state television after he was pulled from a Ryanair flight Minsk diverted on the false pretext of a bomb threat to arrest him
"We are of course ready, in an emergency, to protect and defend any ally against any kind of threat coming from Minsk and Moscow," Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg noted NATO is monitoring "what is happening in Belarus very closely," adding, "We have had to learn in the past that Russia has massively violated the territorial integrity of states such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova."
Russian military personnel without insignia known as "little green men" were responsible for Russia's forcible annexation of Crimea in 2014
NATO has observed greater cooperation between Moscow and Minsk in recent months, with Minsk "increasingly dependent" on Moscow.
Stoltenberg told Welt am Sonntag Belarus will be on the agenda of the upcoming NATO summit in one week's time. He added the current partnership agreement with Belarus is also being scaled back and reevaluated.
In response to the diverting of the Ryanair flight to arrest Pratasevich and Sapega, the EU imposed sanctions and banned EU flights from flying over Belarus and has barred Belarusian carriers from entering EU airspace.
The Ryanair plane that had opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich aboard lands in Vilnius after Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sepaga were detained following the plane being forcibly diverted to Minsk
Stoltenberg reaffirmed that NATO was a "defensive" alliance with a two-pronged approach to Russia, namely deterrence and dialogue.
By contrast, Russian leader Vladimir Putin invited Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko onto his yacht near Sochi where the two met and posed for photographs after the Ryanair incident.
Putin has underscored his support for Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994 with the support of Moscow.