NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Tod Wolters has suggested the alliance should deploy troops in Bulgaria and Romania after Russia's military buildup near the Ukrainian border, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported on Saturday.
Der Spiegel said the plans would in effect extend the alliance's "Enhanced Forward Presence" mission under which it has already deployed troops to the Baltic countries and eastern Poland.
The magazine said it had "information" that Wolters had "called for a reinforcement of troops on the eastern border" of NATO during a confidential videoconference with military leaders of "partner nations," adding that the proposal would in effect "expand NATO's presence [to Romania and Bulgaria]."
NATO has declined to comment on the report in Der Spiegel.
Russian troop presence sparks regional tensions
More than 100,000 Russian troops have been deployed to Russian regions in the north, east and south of Ukraine, a military buildup that has increased tensions between Russia, Ukraine and NATO.
Ukrainian officials have appealed to the alliance for military assistance to possibly defend themselves against a Russian military incursion.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that the alliance would "constantly assess the need to further adjust our posture, our presence, also in the southeast of the region, because we need to be sure that we can always protect and defend allies against any threat."
Bulgaria and Romania have also called for the expansion of NATO's presence.
Amid the tensions, a pair of nuclear-capable Russian long-range bombers patrolled the skies over Belarus on Saturday in a mission intended to cement defense ties between the two allies.
The Russian Defense Ministry said two Tu-22M3 flew a four-hour mission to practice "performing joint tasks with the Belarusian air force and air defense.''
Russia denies invasion plans
Russia has continued to deny that it is planning an invasion. Moscow has said it has the right to "defend its security" from Ukraine's increasingly close relations with NATO and Kyiv's ambitions to join the alliance.
On Friday, Moscow said it wanted a legally binding guarantee that NATO would abort military activities in Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe .
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, said Saturday that security proposals Russia has presented to the US are an attempt to "to turn a military or a military-technical scenario of confrontation into a political process."
Grushko was quoted by Russian Interfax news agency as saying that the political process "will really strengthen military security."
mvb/dj (Reuters, AP)