With US intelligence, Nato to discuss Russian intent near Ukraine

RIGA, LATVIA (REUTERS, AFP) – Foreign ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) alliance will discuss on Tuesday (Nov 30) President Vladimir Putin’s possible intent for massing Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders, and what the alliance’s response should be, as Belarus announced joint military drills with Russia.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to brief his 29 Nato counterparts on the US intelligence picture on the alliance’s eastern flank and in Ukraine, which is not a Nato member, during the meeting in the Latvian capital of Riga.

Any new Russian aggression against Ukraine would result in a serious response, Mr Blinken warned on Tuesday in Riga on the sidelines of the Nato ministerial meeting.

“Any escalatory actions by Russia would be of great concern to the United States, as they would be for Latvia, and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences,” Mr Blinken said at a press conference with his Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevics.

On Monday, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance has no clarity about the intentions of Russia, but what they know is that there is an unusual concentration of Russian military forces close to Ukraine.

“We see heavy capabilities, we see armoured units, drones, electronic warfare systems and we see tens of thousands combat-ready Russian troops,” Mr Stoltenberg said after visiting Nato troops rehearsing battle skills with camouflaged tanks and live rounds in a snowy woodland north of Riga.

The Western military alliance is alarmed by the Russian military presence on Ukraine’s borders, the second build-up this year. In May, Russian troops numbered 100,000 on the Ukraine border, the largest number since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Western officials say.

Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with Russia on its border with Ukraine and accused Nato of building up offensive capabilities near its borders.

President Alexander Lukashenko, whom the West accuses of seeking to divide the European Union by sending Middle Eastern migrants to the Polish border, warned that Minsk would not sit on the sidelines in the case of all-out war.

“It is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said, referring to Russia, whose financial and political backing helped him weather huge protests following disputed presidential elections in August last year.

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