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22nd Mar 2019

Nato warns of Russian military build-up, amid EU peace talks

  • The Nato statement stands in contrast to the EU's latest Russian diplomacy (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Nato has again warned of a “build-up” of “Russian forces” in and around Ukraine, one day after EU ministers shied away from Russia criticism.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg told press in Brussels on Tuesday (18 November): “We have confirmation … about a military build-up inside Ukraine, but we are also seeing a build-up on the Russian side of the border”.

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“We are speaking of troops, equipment, artillery, very modern air-defence systems. This is a serious military build-up”.

“We see that Russia is still destabilising Ukraine … and we call on Russia to pull back its forces from eastern Ukraine”, he added.

The former Norwegian PM spoke before his first-ever meeting with EU defence minsters.

His words stand in contrast to a softer statement by EU foreign ministers on Monday which spoke of “troops without insignia from across the Russian border” and of “foreign forces” inside Ukraine without blaming Moscow.

Polish foreign minister Grzegorz Schetyna said it was designed to “leave space for further talks” with Russia.

Regular EU-Russia summits and bilateral EU-Russia summits were put on hold by EU leaders earlier this year.

But German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in Moscow on Tuesday, while EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini is considering a similar trip.

Meanwhile, Ukraine itself has warned that Russia is preparing a new “full-scaled offensive” despite Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s talk of peace at international events.

It has also urged Nato to give it modern weapons.

Nato and EU states have ruled out arming Ukraine, with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who met Putin at a G20 summit on Saturday, saying: “It would lead to military confrontation with Russia”.

Nato is helping Ukraine to fund new military logistics, command and control capabilities, and cyber-defence capacities in what Stoltenberg called “full support”.

He “welcomed” Merkel’s diplomatic efforts, noting that “both the EU and Nato want a peaceful solution”.

But with some Nato states saying the EU should prepare new economic sanctions in case Ukraine's warning comes true, Stoltenberg added: “Russia has a choice … Russia can either be part of a peaceful, negotiated solution or Russia can continue on the path of isolation”.

The Dutch defence minister, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on Tuesday also said: “It is … up to the Russians to show they are serious about letting tranquility return to Ukraine”.

The defence ministers’ meeting is to check progress on last year's EU decision to “pool and share” procurement of high-end military technology and to develop joint EU capabilities, such as surveillance drones.

It will also take stock of EU military missions around the world.

The EU currently has five military operations - in Bosnia, the Central African Republic, the Horn of Africa, Mali, and Somalia - as well as 11 civilian initiatives.

On 1 December, some 50 EU experts will start helping Ukraine to rebuild its police force and gendarmerie.

Kalman Mizsei, the Hungarian diplomat running the mission, said on Monday it will grow to 100 EU staff and 70 local personnel in the coming months.

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