NATO: Russian ‘aggression’ in Ukraine must be countered
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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday the alliance will not get dragged into an arms race with Russia but must counter Moscow's "aggressive actions" in Ukraine.
Defence ministers are due to approve measures including more than doubling NATO's rapid response force, while the US on Tuesday announced it would pre-position heavy weapons on the alliance's eastern flank.
Russia has denounced the moves as Cold War-style provocations while upgrading its own armed forces, including with more than 40 new nuclear ballistic missiles this year.
"We will not be dragged into an arms race but we must keep our countries safe," Stoltenberg said as the meeting opened at NATO HQ in Brussels.
"What Russia has done in Ukraine is not defensive; to annex (Crimea)... that is an act of aggression."
Stoltenberg played down fears of a return to the worst days of the Cold War, insisting NATO's response was "defensive, proportionate and in line with all our international obligations".
"Russia continues to send troops, forces and supplies into eastern Ukraine. There is no doubt that Russia is responsible for aggressive actions in Europe," he said.
If the 28-member alliance had not responded, then that would have been cause for concern, he said, adding that NATO "continues to strive for more constructive relations with Russia".
Russia denies that it is directly involved in the 15-month conflict in Ukraine which has cost 6,500 lives.
NATO beefs up forces
In the fallout from the crisis, NATO has adopted a series of measures to give it a very high-speed reaction unit, on top of a fast response force which will be increased to about 40,000 troops from 13,000.
Exercises have been stepped up, planes and ships deployed to reassure nervous allies in eastern Europe once ruled from Moscow, and commitments made to reinforce the message that NATO is ready to meet its commitment to defend any ally under attack.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday that Washington would pre-position heavy weapons in central and eastern Europe to ensure any NATO troops responding to a fresh crisis would hit the ground running.
"While we do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia, we will defend our allies," said Carter, who will be attending his first NATO defence ministers' meeting.
The US equipment includes some 90 Abrams main battle tanks, among the best in the world, 140 Bradley armoured vehicles and 20 self-propelled howitzers.
Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland agreed to take the equipment which will be moved around the region as required for training and exercises.
Russia charges that such deployments breach the 1997 Founding Act with NATO which notably bans the permanent stationing of significant forces and equipment in former Warsaw Pact states.
NATO insists that all such deployments are rotational and temporary but the three Baltic states last month called for a permanent NATO presence to deter Russia.
NATO leaders agreed at a September summit to boost defence spending to the equivalent of 2.0 percent of annual economic output after years of cuts following the end of the Cold War.
Stoltenberg said five countries were already above the target, but overall, NATO's combined defence spending would still fall 1.5 percent this year.
In contrast, "Russia has over many years invested heavily in defence," he added.