NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has demanded that Russia withdraw its forces and military hardware from Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said after a meeting of NATO defence ministers with their Ukrainian counterpart in Brussels on Wednesday.
“Russia needs to stop supporting the militants and withdraw its forces and military equipment from Ukrainian territory.”
He said the alliance would continue to stand by the government in Kiev and would never recognise Russia’s “illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea” two years ago.
The Ukrainian territory of Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation on the 18th of March 2014. Since then, the peninsula has been administered as the de facto Crimean Federal District, constituting two Russian federal subjects—the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.
The annexation followed a military intervention by Russia in Crimea, which took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and was part of wider unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine.
The Russian Federation opposes the “annexation” label with Putin defending the referendum as complying with the principle of self-determination of peoples. In July 2015, Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Crimea had been fully integrated into Russia.
NATO is to deploy four battalions to Poland and the Baltic states as part of a push back against Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, alliance head Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.
“We will agree to deploy by rotation four robust, multinational battalions in the Baltic states and Poland. This will send a clear signal that NATO stands ready to defend any ally.”
Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and its support for ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine has made Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia increasingly anxious about their own security.
Asked about the possibility of an Russian attack, Lithuania’s Defence Minister Juozas Olekas told Reuters:
“We cannot exclude it. They might exercise on the borders and then switch to invasion in hours.”
NATO already operates a Baltic air-policing mission, this takes the form of air defence ‘Quick Reaction Alert’ in order to guard the airspace over the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
NATO stressed that the deployment, to be made on a rotational basis is not permanent so as not to infringe existing treaties with Russia, was part of a much wider response to the Ukraine crisis which includes tripling the NATO Response Force to 40,000 men ready to move at short notice, creating a Spearhead Force of about 5,000 on a just few days’ standby.