NATO chief raises concerns about Russian military buildup in Belarus
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday raised concerns about Russia’s military buildup along Belarus’s border with Ukraine, warning that the number of Russian troops in Belarus could rise to 30,000 this month.
“Over the last days, we have seen a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus. This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War,” Stoltenberg said at NATO headquarters on Thursday, The Associated Press reported.
The NATO chief said Russian forces likely include special operation forces, fighter jets, air defence systems and short-range ballistic missiles.
“So, we speak about a wide range of modern military capabilities. All this will be combined with Russia’s annual nuclear forces exercise, expected to take place this month,” said Stoltenberg.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Belarus’s capital city of Minsk on Thursday to check on the status of Russia-Belarus war games scheduled from Feb. 10-20, according to the AP. The Russian defense official met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO was “committed to finding a political solution to the crisis,” but added that the military alliance is “prepared for the worst.”
Russia is believed to have over 100,000 troops gathered at its border with Ukraine. Moscow has demanded that NATO not expand any further eastward and that Ukraine be barred from ever joining the alliance, conditions which the U.S. and NATO have rejected.
While the U.S. and Russia have continued to negotiate through more quiet diplomatic channels, Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week that the U.S. had “ignored” Russia’s security concerns. He said it was clear “that the principal Russian concerns turned out to be ignored.”
He further accused the U.S. of trying to incite conflict in order to enact harsh sanctions against Russia and claimed that the U.S was trying to “contain Russia’s development.”
“Ukraine is just an instrument of achieving this goal. It can be done in different ways, such as pulling us into some armed conflict and then forcing their allies in Europe to enact those harsh sanctions against us that are being discussed today in the United States,” he said.