Spain has sent the frigate Blas de Lezo from Ferrol on its Atlantic coast to the Black Sea several weeks ahead of schedule © Jose Diaz/Europa Press/Getty
Nato said its members were putting military forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to allied countries in eastern Europe in response to rising fears of a potential Russian attack on Ukraine.
Russia has deployed more than 106,000 troops close to its border with Ukraine in recent months, sparking fears of a fresh invasion of the country.
“I welcome allies contributing additional forces to Nato,” said Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary-general. “Nato will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the alliance.
“We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defence,” he added. Moscow has repeatedly denied it plans to invade but said the risk of conflict in the eastern Donbas border region was “very high.”
Dmitry Peskov, president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that the west was to blame for escalating tensions by deploying more forces and publishing “fake” claims of two Russian regime change plots in Ukraine.
“This isn’t happening because of what we, Russia, are doing. This is all happening because of what Nato and the US are doing and the information they are distributing,” Peskov said.
Peskov said Putin wanted to “avoid [a] similar tense situation in the future” by focusing on security talks with the US and Nato.
The US is expected to send Russia a written response this week to its draft proposals to end Nato’s eastward expansion, roll back its deployments in eastern European countries, and pledge never to admit Ukraine – a step that would essentially rewrite the entire post-Cold War security order in Europe.
“Unfortunately, we all live in these aggressive surroundings [ . . . ] This is the reality in which we live. Our head of state, as the commander-in-chief and the person who defines our foreign policy, is taking the essential measures so that our security and interests are ensured at the appropriate level,” Peskov said.
Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko accused Nato of “demonizing” Moscow in order to justify the “pointless” deployments, according to Interfax.
Grushko said the specter of a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine “existed only in inflamed minds in the west” and was “being used to demonstrate that the alliance is in demand and ready to come to the defense of its helpless allies in the face of the Russian threat.”
“The more Nato pumps into pointlessly strengthening its eastern flank, the louder the cries about Russian aggressiveness are,” Grushko said.
Nato’s statement on Monday came as several western countries said they had taken steps to evacuate families of diplomats based in Kyiv out of the country.
Britain on Monday ordered a number of its embassy staff and family members to leave Ukraine. The move came after the US on Sunday told family members of its embassy staff to leave Kyiv because of the risk of “significant military action” by Russia. The US and UK said their embassies would remain open.
Moscow’s Moex stock index fell more than 7.5 per cent and yields on Russia’s government debt hit their highest level in six years, as the potential for western sanctions prompted investors to dump Russian assets. The rouble lost 1.5 per cent to trade at 78.9 to the US dollar, a 14-month low.
Ukraine is not a member of Nato, but western officials have warned that any conflict could affect neighbours to the west.
Nato said examples of the alliance strengthening include an already announced move by Denmark to send a frigate to the Baltic Sea and France’s readiness to send troops to Romania.
Spain has sent the frigate Blas de Lezo from Ferrol on its Atlantic coast to the Black Sea several weeks ahead of schedule, for which Stoltenberg thanked Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at the weekend.
Spain’s foreign minister José Manuel Albares told the FT that such deployments “showed Spain’s commitment to the security of Europe, whether the eastern or southern flank”.