NATO deploys forces, warns Russian aggression ‘goes far beyond Ukraine’

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Feb. 25 (UPI) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that the organization is deploying forces, accusing Russia of aggression and rhetoric that “goes far beyond Ukraine.”

His announcement came at the conclusion of an emergency meeting of the heads of member states in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday. He said the NATO Response Force will deploy resources by land, sea and air to protect countries on the body’s eastern flank.

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“We are deploying [the NRF] to … prevent any miscalculations, any misunderstandings that we are not ready to protect and defend all our allies. This is something that all allies have agreed to do,” he said during a news conference.

Some NATO member states “are close to the fighting in Ukraine, and they also border Russia, and they’ve seen not only the military buildup and the ongoing war in Ukraine, but also seen the very threatening rhetoric because this goes far beyond Ukraine.

“Russia’s attack on Ukraine is more than an attack on Ukraine. It’s a devastating, horrendous attack on innocent people in Ukraine, but it’s also an attack on the whole European security order. And that’s the reason why we take it so extremely seriously,” Stoltenberg added.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, Stoltenberg condemned the invasion “in the strongest terms” and urged Russia to leave Ukraine and give the country the “right to choose its own path.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and other Western leaders attended remotely. The NATO webpage live streamed the opening portion of the emergency meeting.

Russian forces kept up their assault on Ukraine on Friday and moved closer to the capital Kyiv. Fighting reached Kyiv’s northern suburbs and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for more international help and stronger economic sanctions.

Stoltenberg said NATO would provide Ukraine with more weapons and air-defense systems

Ukrainian officials said on Friday that civilian locations in Kyiv have already been hit by Russian rocket fire.

Biden, who attended the meeting from the Situation Room in the White House, said in a national address on Thursday that NATO would “affirm our solidarity and to map out the next steps we will take to further strengthen all aspects of our NATO alliance.”

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When asked Thursday if NATO would respond and how many U.S. troops would be involved, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said no decision has been made.

“That’s really up to NATO,” she told reporters. “As you know, we have a number of troops — thousands of troops that are on call. But that is a decision to be made by the NATO Alliance.”

The NRF comprises about 40,000 troops, about three times its size in 2014. Stoltenberg said not all troops would be deployed.