Foreign ministers of NATO’s member states, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, are set to meet on November 30 in Latvia to discuss a Russian military buildup near its border with Ukraine and a migrant crisis on the alliance’s eastern flank fueled by Moscow ally Belarus.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly voiced concern over the buildup of Russian soldiers near the Russia-Ukraine border and has warned of “consequences” if Russia chooses to use force against Ukraine.
“There is not clarity about the Russian intentions, but there is an unusual concentration of forces for the second time this year,” Stoltenberg told AFP. “We see heavy armor, drones, electronic warfare systems, and tens of thousands of combat-ready troops.”
Additional support for Ukraine’s military and the potential of strengthening NATO forces arrayed along the alliance’s eastern border are topics expected to be on the agenda at the meeting in Riga, Latvia’s capital.
Ukraine, which aspires to become a member of NATO, is sending Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to the two-day meeting.
Kuleba told foreign media on November 29 that Russia had amassed 115,000 troops and heavy weapons near his country’s border, on the occupied territory of Crimea, and in parts of the two eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine occupied by Russia-backed separatists.
“It’s better to act now, not later” to “deter Russia,” Kuleba said. “What we are seeing is very serious.”
Russia, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backs separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, has denied it is plotting an attack and blames NATO for fueling tensions.
Ministers are expected to discuss contingency plans should Russia invade. The alliance is looking to show the Kremlin it will face severe costs if it threatens Ukraine, while stopping short of provoking Moscow into further aggression.
Blinken will emphasize the strength of the transatlantic relationship, NATO’s ongoing success in safeguarding the transatlantic community, and the Biden administration’s commitment to the alliance and its allies, the State Department said in a statement on November 29.
The statement reiterated that the U.S. commitment to the collective defense doctrine enshrined in Article 5 of the NATO treaty is “ironclad” and said the alliance is deterring and defending against a wide range of security challenges.
These include “escalating Russian aggression, terrorism, hybrid and cyberthreats, emerging and disruptive technologies, and the way the climate crisis is affecting the threat landscape.”
The gathering in Riga is also expected to address the migrant crisis, which for weeks has plagued NATO members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.
The European Union has accused Belarus of funneling thousands of mainly Middle Eastern migrants to its borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia in retribution for EU sanctions against Minsk. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka rejects the accusation.
NATO has expressed “solidarity” with its eastern members, and Stoltenberg and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on November 28 pledged to step up cooperation against the migrant challenge. Von der Leyen said the EU would increase border-management funding for the three countries.
The tensions have eased since Iraq began flying some migrants back to the country, but Warsaw and Vilnius insist the crisis is far from over.
The foreign ministers also will discuss NATO’s operations in Afghanistan, reflecting on lessons learned, and NATO’s master strategy document, known as the Strategic Concept, which will guide the alliance as it addresses current and emerging challenges, the U.S. State Department statement said.
The new Strategic Concept is being prepared for adoption at the NATO summit in Madrid in June 2022.