Ukraine: what did NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg say - are there signs of de-escalation on Ukrainian border?

The NATO Secretary General warned that Russia’s reaction to the situation is the “new normal” in Europe

NATO Secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has said the defensive alliance is “not a threat to Russia” and warned the country’s reaction to Ukraine’s aspiring membership is “the new normal” in Europe.

Mr Stoltenberg spoke in a press conference about the current ongoing situation in Ukraine, adding that the group will be establishing new battle groups around Europe.

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Russia have said that troops are being withdrawn from the Ukrainian border, after 125,000 troops were positioned in November 2021, with a nod towards potential negotiations with the West.

President Vladimir Putin’s demand that Ukraine does not join NATO over potential “security threats” to Russia has been refused by Western leaders, with Mr Stoltenberg saying that there has not yet been any signs of de-escalation on the Ukrainian border.

Here’s everything you need to know about the NATO leader’s response to the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

What did Jens Stoltenberg say about Russia’s withdrawal from the Ukrainian border?

Despite President Putin announcing that some troops were being stood down from the Ukrainian border, Mr Stoltenberg said that NATO currently see no signs of de-escalation.

He said that this was confirmed by commercial satellite images which show Russia’s failure to withdraw, saying: “Allies welcome all diplomatic efforts and there are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue, but so far we do not see any signs of de-escalation on the ground – no withdrawals of troops or equipment.

“This may, of course, change however, what we see today is that Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack, with high-end capabilities from Crimea to Belarus.

“This is the biggest concentration of forces in Europe since the Cold War.”

Mr Stoltenberg added that Russia’s willingness to open up to negotiations and diplomacy was cause for “cautious optimism”, but warned of a “paradox” after there was no signs of de-escalation.

He said: “The paradox is that while of course this is something we think is something we should actually take seriously and see if it is possible to make progress on the diplomatic track, what we see on the ground is no withdrawal of troops and forces, equipment, but actually what we see is that Russian troops are moving into position and we saw the cyber attack.”

Ukrainian websites for the armed forces, state banks and defensive military were targeted in a cyber attack on Tuesday 15 February, with the origin believed to be of Russian origin.

Mr Stoltenberg continued: “And these are the kinds of actions and measures that we expect will come in advance of a bigger military intervention into Ukraine.

“So of course this is of concern, and that’s the reason why we continue to call on Russia to de-escalate and to follow up on what they say, to engage in good faith in diplomatic efforts.”

Why are NATO setting up battle groups in Europe?

He added that new Nato battle groups will be established across Europe in response to Russia’s reaction to Ukraine’s attempts to join the defensive alliance.

Mr Stoltenberg said: “Nato is not a threat to Russia.

“We do not know what will happen in Ukraine, but the situation has already demonstrated that we face a crisis in European security.

“Moscow has made it clear that it is prepared to contest the fundamental principles that have underpinned our security for decades, and to do so by using force.

“I regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe.

“Therefore today ministers decided to develop options to further strengthen Nato’s deterrence and defence, including to establish new Nato battle groups in central and eastern and south-eastern Europe.”

He added that strengthening in a “defensive way” in Eastern Europe was a priority for NATO even if Russia were to de-escalate.

Mr Stoltenberg said: “Even if we see a gradual or some kind of development where Russia decides not to use force… just the fact that they have been willing to amass all these troops and combine that with a message that they are threatening an independent country and actually also threatening Nato allies – that if we don’t violate core principles for our security there will be serious consequences – that in itself is serious.

“And that’s the reason why we need to consider some more longer-term adjustments to our posture in the east.”

The NATO leader also said that there must be “no room for miscalculation or misunderstanding” on the move by the defensive alliance.

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