Russia has “thousands of troops in Ukraine,” a NATO official has said, as the alliance summit begins in Newport, Wales.
„We are still seeing several thousand Russian combat troops on the ground inside Ukraine, equipped with hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles, so [there is] no substantial change in the disposition of Russian forces inside Ukraine,” the NATO officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, has told Reuters.
As leaders from 60 nations, including Poland’s president Bronislaw Komorowski, foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski and defence minister Tomasz Siemoniak, gathered for the start of the two-day NATO summit on Thursday, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Europe is facing a “dramatic new security situation” as “to the east, Russia is attacking Ukraine.”
Poland has demanded a permanent NATO base on its soil to fend off the perceived new threat from Russia, though some NATO members, such as France and Germany, say they do not want to break a 1997 agreement with Moscow, under which NATO committed not to permanently station significant combat forces in eastern Europe.
Others point out that the so-called '1997 NATO–Russia Founding Act’ only mentions not establishing permanent bases in eastern Europe “in the current and foreseeable security environment.”
Poland and the Baltic states are now pointing to the “new realities” that face the alliance since the crisis in Ukraine began, with the NATO-Russian relationship entering a new, conflictual stage.
„There has not been this much danger to Europe in both its southern and eastern neighbourhoods since the fall of Communism,” Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski told the BBC on Thursday evening.
NATO Secretary-General Fogh Rasmussen promised last week, however, a new rapid reaction force, believed to contain anything up to 5,000 troops.
“What I would call a 'spearhead’ […] a very high-readiness force able to deploy at very short notice […] would be provided by allies in rotation, and could include several thousand troops, ready to respond where needed with air, sea and special forces support,” he said.
Last week, during ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the start of WWII, Polish prime minister Donald Tusk said that “the western community is threatened by war, not just in eastern Ukraine. There is still time to stop those for whom violence, force and aggression have again become part of their political arsenal.”
The NATO base in Szczecin, north west Poland, could be where this 'spearhead’ is based, say analysts.
Meanwhile, Moscow has accused Washington of backing what it called the „party of war” in Ukraine.
„The surge in anti-Russian rhetoric that we have seen exactly when there is a very active effort to seek a political solution shows that the party of war in Kiev has active external support, in this case from the United States,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said as the NATO summit began. (pg)
Main photo: (L-R) French President Francois Hollande, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hold a meeting on the situation in Ukraine in Newport, South Wales, 04 September 2014. World leaders from about 60 countries are coming together for a two-day NATO summit taking place from 04-05 September: photo – EPA/MAURIZIO GAMBARINI