Nato strengthens east borders as Russian invasion looms

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Nato strengthens east borders as Russian invasion looms

The military alliance secretary general said that Nato is reinforcing its eastern borders with land, sea and air forces as a Russian invasion of Ukraine appeared increasingly likely.

Jens Stoltenberg said that the deteriorating security situation had led Nato allies to prepare frigates, fighter jets and troops for their collective defence. The US administration is ready to increase its military presence in eastern Europe, said Nato s chief, a former prime minister of Norway, in a statement that appeared to raise the stakes for the Kremlin.

The allies that contribute to Nato are welcome, according to Stoltenberg. Nato will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the alliance. We will respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including strengthening our collective defence. Russia's deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko condemned the Nato deployments, saying that the military alliance was demonising Russia in order to justify military activity on Nato's eastern flank. He said in remarks published by Russian media that the language of Nato is the language of threats and military pressure. The White House and Downing Street said they had started withdrawing diplomats families from Ukraine, and EU foreign ministers gathered to discuss the escalating crisis with US secretary of state Antony Blinken.

Blinken will brief the ministers by video link on his talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov last week.

More than 100,000 Russian troops and heavy weapons have been mobilised on the Ukrainian border.

The EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the bloc would consider removing its staff after the talks with Blinken but he was not aware of an urgent need.

The new Nato military capability announced for the east includes Denmark deploying a frigate to the Baltic Sea and four F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania.

Spain is sending ships to join Nato naval forces and is considering sending fighter jets to Bulgaria. Emmanuel Macron expressed his government's readiness to send French troops under Nato command to Romania.

Nato has increased its presence within the territory of its eastern member states in response to Russia annexation of Crimea in 2014. There are currently four multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, led by the UK, Canada, Germany and the US.

EU ministers are expected to reiterate their warning of a severe economic price to be paid by Russia if Ukraine invades, after a wobble in Berlin.

Germany s navy chief Kay-Achim Schnbach resigned after it emerged that he had said that Vladimir Putin deserved respect.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania's foreign minister, said that the new German government was in a difficult situation having started just a month ago, but he warned that the EU and the US needed to show a unified front. He said that real war is a possibility. The sanctions have to be unbearable. Simon Coveney, who arrived in Brussels, Ireland, said he would inform his counterparts that Russia planned to hold war games 240 km 150 miles off Ireland s coast, within international waters and the country's exclusive economic zone.

He said: We don't have a power to prevent this happening but I made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland that it is not welcome.

This isn't a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what is happening in Ukraine. In the coming weeks Russia continued its preparations for sweeping naval exercises on Monday as the Baltic Fleet announced that two corvettes had set sail for military exercises, despite the fact that they were choosing to do it on the western borders, if you like, of the EU, off the Irish coast.

The Kremlin has sent six amphibious landing ships to the Mediterranean Sea as part of the exercises, which will include 140 ships and more than 10,000 Russian troops.

Russia is going to hold joint military drills in Belarus in February. Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader, said on Monday he would deploy a whole army contingent to the border with Ukraine, alleging that Ukrainians have begun to gather troops there. I don't understand why.