NATO is activating its “defense plans” for allied countries as Russia attacks non-NATO member Ukraine, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg told a media conference on Thursday.
Stoltenberg also confirmed that NATO will hold a video summit on Friday to discuss the Russian invasion of its pro-Western neighbor.
And he reiterated that NATO had no “plans” to send alliance troops to Ukraine.
He spoke after the ambassadors of the 30-nation alliance held an emergency meeting early Thursday to discuss the Russian attack.
It is the first time the alliance has publicly said it is activating its defense plans, which were drawn up after Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
Stoltenberg did not give details of them beyond saying they are “defensive plans” allowing deployments that “cover the whole east of our alliance” and which “give our military commanders some more authority within politically defined guidelines.”
He said it would include elements of NATO’s rapid reaction force of 40,000 soldiers, including a highly prepared unit of 7,000 personnel, most of them French, and an air wing under French command.
Stoltenberg said Friday’s summit would also include non-NATO members Sweden and Finland, and EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.
The NATO chief said the invasion would have “long-term effects” on the Western alliance’s relationship with Russia and NATO’s security posture.
“We don’t have all the answers today. But it will be a new reality. It will be a new Europe after the invasion we saw today,” he said.
Russia, he said, had not taken “seriously” efforts to find a political solution to the tensions that preceded its military attack on Ukraine.
“So Russia has shut the door to a political solution. We regret that. But that’s, sadly, the reality, which has severe and very serious consequences for the people of Ukraine, but also actually impacts the security for all of us.
“And that’s the reason why we step up our presence in the eastern part of the alliance.”
Earlier Stoltenberg denounced Russia’s “reckless and unprovoked attack” on Ukraine, warning in a statement it put “countless” lives in jeopardy.
“I strongly condemn Russia’s reckless and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which puts at risk countless civilian lives,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO has been a consistent sticking point with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has steadfastly attempted to block any attempt for Ukraine to join the security alliance as he has increasingly attempted to make inroads with separatist movements in the neighboring country.
“Once again, despite our repeated warnings and tireless efforts to engage in diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.
“This is a grave breach of international law, and a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security. I call on Russia to cease its military action immediately and respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Stoltenberg added: “We stand with the people of Ukraine at this terrible time. NATO will do all it takes to protect and defend all allies.”
The statement came after Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine and air and missile strikes happened in multiple locations across the country.
Putin justified it all in a televised address, asserting that the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the US had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion. He accused the US and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and for security guarantees. He also claimed that Russia does not intend to occupy Ukraine but will move to “demilitarize” it and bring those who committed crimes to justice.
Ukraine is not a member of the 30-nation Western military alliance, but its attempt to join has angered the Kremlin leader. Putin has demanded guarantees from NATO and the US that Ukraine would never be granted membership.
Within Ukraine, the move to align more with the West and come under its security umbrella has gained traction. Survey data from February 2021 shows that 56 percent of people across Ukraine support the country’s path toward NATO membership. This number was 30% in 2014, just after the annexation of Crimea.
Stoltenberg has previously said NATO has no plans to send troops to fight in Ukraine if Russia attacked and key power Washington has ruled out deploying its forces to defend the country.