KYIV — NATO said Monday that member nations are putting their forces on standby and sending more ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe to reassure allies in the region as the UK joined the United States in ordering the withdrawal of diplomats’ families from Ukraine, citing “The Growing Threat from Russia”.
The moves signaled growing fears about a possible Russian military intervention in Ukraine, as well as growing concern that the Kremlin would flex its muscles further. Russian troops and equipment are being moved to neighboring Belarus for next month’s exercise, which US officials fear is directed not only at Ukraine but also at NATO countries on Belarus’ western border, such as Poland and the Baltic states.
On Monday, the Irish government said it had expressed concern to Moscow over its plans to hold naval exercises off the coast of Ireland next month.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced last week that more than 140 ships and 10,000 sailors will take part in a series of naval live-fire exercises in February around the world, including in the Irish Sea. The goal, according to the ministry, is “protection of Russia’s national interests in the oceans.”
“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and protect all allies, including by strengthening the eastern part of the Alliance,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday. “We will always respond to any deterioration in our security environment, including by strengthening our collective defense.”
The NATO statement did not indicate that any additional forces deployed in Eastern Europe would be used to support non-NATO Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. Western officials have made it clear that NATO forces will not engage in military action against Russia.
Alexander V. Grushko, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said there was “nothing new” in NATO’s new deployments, indicating that the alliance “speaks the language of threats and military pressure,” Russian news agency Interfax reported.
The Ukrainian government on Monday criticized the State Department’s decision to order family members of US embassy employees to leave Ukraine, calling it “premature” and the result of “excessive caution.”
The actions of the US and British embassies have clashed with attempts by the Ukrainian leadership to create an image of business as usual, even as Russian troops, tanks and fighter jets continue to mass around the country’s borders.
“There have been no serious changes in the security situation lately,” said Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko. “The threat of a new wave of Russian aggression has persisted since 2014, and the buildup of Russian forces on the state border began in April last year.”
Understanding Escalating Tensions Around Ukraine
While the United States warned that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could order an attack at any time, the Ukrainian government has shown less urgency and at times provided conflicting assessments of the situation. In an address to the nation last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky downplayed the threat, urging Ukrainians to remain calm and not “run for buckwheat and matches.”
“This danger has been around for more than a day and is no more,” he said.
In a statement, Mr. Nilolenko, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, suggested that by panicking, the Russians would simply win as they tried to sow discord through information warfare.
“The Russian Federation is currently actively working to destabilize the internal situation in Ukraine,” he said. “In this situation, it is important to soberly assess the risks and remain calm.”
Despite the departure of family members and some staff, the US and UK embassies have been ordered to remain open. The State Department said the decision was made “out of great caution” but that the United States “won’t be able” to evacuate US citizens in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Anton Troyanovsky provided a report from Moscow.