Diplomats said NATO foreign ministers will look at options ranging
from stepped-up military exercises and sending more forces to
eastern members states, to the permanent basing of alliance forces
there — a step Moscow would view as provocative.
Ministers from the 28 alliance members are meeting in Brussels for
the first time since Russia's military occupation and annexation of
Ukraine's Crimea region caused the worst East-West crisis since the
While the United States and its allies have made clear they will not
intervene militarily in Ukraine, which does not belong to NATO, they
have scrambled to reassure anxious NATO members in eastern Europe,
particularly ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics, that they are
sheltered by the alliance's security umbrella.
The United States has increased the number of U.S. aircraft in
regular NATO air patrols over the Baltic States and beefed up a
previously planned training exercise with the Polish air force.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute said the ministers, including
Secretary of State John Kerry, would discuss further measures to
reassure the eastern European allies.
"They will talk about ... what more can be done to amplify the
measures that have been taken already and to sustain them over time
so that these measures are not simply short-term gestures," Lute
told a news conference.
Since 1999, when it began admitting former members of the Soviet-led
Warsaw Pact, NATO has had a self-imposed restriction on permanently
basing alliance forces in eastern Europe. However, Poland and
Romania have agreed to host parts of the U.S. anti-ballistic missile
shield and NATO air forces take turns to provide air cover over the
A senior NATO diplomat said the Crimean crisis would probably lead
to the issue of permanent bases being discussed. "I think that these
are the sorts of things that ministers are likely to talk about in
the next couple of days," he said.
The ministers' meeting continues on Wednesday, although it is due to
discuss Afghanistan then.
FLAUNTING RUSSIA'S GRIP
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev flaunted Russia's grip on Crimea by
flying to the region and holding a government meeting there on
Monday. But in a gesture that could ease tension, Moscow said it had
pulled some troops back from near Ukraine's eastern border.
Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told
reporters last week that the United States would increase temporary
deployments of ground and naval forces to NATO allies in eastern
Europe. "We expect other European partners to step up and join us in
doing so," he said.
U.S. forces in Europe have fallen from just over 300,000 in the
final years of the Cold War to about 100,000 in 2005. The number is
estimated at about 80,000 in 2014, including 14,000 civilians,
according to the U.S. military's European Command.
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Many European allies have slashed military spending in response to
the financial crisis and the United States also recently unveiled
cuts. Washington is pressing European allies to reverse the cuts,
but is likely to face an uphill struggle.
Ministers will review NATO's cooperation with Russia, but it was
unclear if they would announce further steps on Tuesday.
announced soon after the Crimean crisis broke that it would no
longer hold lower-level meetings with Russian counterparts and would
suspend planning for a joint mission linked to Syrian chemical
NATO and Russian ambassadors could continue to meet but "other forms
of practical cooperation, military cooperation are likely to be in
the deep freeze for the time being," one senior diplomatic source
At a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia, the
NATO ministers are also expected to offer help to make Ukraine's
armed forces more efficient.
Ukraine has sent NATO "a huge list of equipment requests" which had
been forwarded to individual allies for them to decide on what they
could do, a senior NATO official said.
Ministers are expected to agree to step up cooperation with
Ukraine's armed forces, which already includes training officers,
holding joint exercises and promoting reforms.
Diplomats said they expected no discussion this week on whether the
Crimean crisis would put Georgian and Ukrainian membership of NATO
back on the agenda. Possible future expansion of NATO will be
discussed at another meeting in June.
A divided NATO reached a compromise at a 2008 summit, declaring that
the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine would one day
join the alliance, but without setting them on an immediate path to
Georgia's membership prospects were put on ice after it fought a war
with Russia later that year while Ukraine's former pro-Russian
President Viktor Yanukovich, ousted in February, ditched the goal of
joining NATO in 2010.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Phil Stewart
in Washington; editing by David Stamp)
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