BRUSSELS: Nato said on Monday it was sending jets and ships to bolster its eastern European flank, as the US and EU looked to coordinate a tough response to Russia if it invades Ukraine.
Tensions have soared over Russia’s deployment of some 100,000 troops and heavy armour at its neighbour’s borders, despite the Kremlin’s insistence it is not planning a new incursion almost eight years after it seized Crimea.
The United States, Britain and Australia ordered diplomats’ families to leave Kiev, while France told its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Ukraine.
Both Kiev and the European Union’s foreign policy chief said any withdrawal of diplomatic personnel appeared premature, amid doubts over how imminent any attack could be.
But the tensions helped send global markets sharply downwards — with Russia’s stock market plunging and its central bank suspending foreign currency purchasing after the ruble slumped.
Top US diplomat Antony Blinken dialled in to a meeting of his EU counterparts in Brussels to brief them on his meeting Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, where the two sides failed to make a breakthrough but agreed to keep talking.
The US is trying to marshal its allies to prepare an unprecedented package of sanctions on Moscow if it deploys more of its forces — and EU officials insist they could hit the Kremlin with “massive consequences” within days if needed.
The US-led Nato alliance said its members were placing troops “on standby” and sending ships and jets to bolster eastern Europe’s defences in response to the Russian buildup, pointing to recent decisions by Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands to mobilise forces.
“Nato will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies,” Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said.
The Kremlin accused the alliance of ramping up tensions through “information hysteria” and “concrete actions”, claiming the risk of an offensive by Ukrainian troops fighting Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country was “very high”.
EU foreign ministers were sounding out Blinken over a written response Washington has committed to provide to Moscow this week after the Kremlin laid down a series of security demands, including preventing Ukraine joining Nato and rolling back the alliance’s forces in eastern Europe.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc has as yet no plans to pull diplomatic personnel out of Kiev, adding there was no need to “dramatise” the situation while talks with Russia continued.
The EU — in consultation with the US and other allies — is pushing to put together a package of sanctions against Moscow that it hopes will help deter Russia from any military action.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2022