Another Russian invasion of Ukraine would carry a “high price,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Tuesday, adding that the 30 allies together represent more than 50 percent of the global economy.
“Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference following a day of meetings among allied foreign ministers in Riga, Latvia.
The United States and other Western allies have warned of a large mobilization of Russian forces and weaponry along the border with Ukraine, raising the risk of a potential new invasion. Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014 and has backed armed separatists in a nearly eight-year-long war that continues in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas.
Russia carried out a similar mobilization of forces last spring but the U.S. has told allies that aspects of the current build-up seem even more alarming this time.
“The situation in and around Ukraine remains fluid and unpredictable,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday. “There is no certainty about Russia’s intentions. We see a significant and unusual concentration of forces, which is unjustified and unexplained, and accompanied by heightened rhetoric and disinformation. And we know that Russia has used force before against Ukraine and other neighbors.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday warned NATO that deploying weapons or soldiers to Ukraine would cross a “red line” for the Kremlin and trigger a significant response. Asked about his red lines over Ukraine during an investment conference, Putin said: “They are above all in the creation of threats to us which could come from [Ukraine].” He continued: “We would have to create a similar threat for those who are threatening us,” before adding that Russia had the capacity to deploy hypersonic missiles, saying: “We can do that already now.”
Ukrainian officials have said they have no expectation that their Western supporters, including NATO allies, will join a military conflict against Russia. Senior officials have called for an increased NATO military presence in the region, including stepped-up air policing and additional support such as military training.
U.S. and EU officials have said that while Ukraine might request help in the form of weapons, they did not expect such assistance would ever tip the outcome of a conflict in Ukraine’s favor, but would simply raise the number of casualties for Russia and, inevitably, for Ukraine.
Pressed during his news conference about the specific steps that NATO allies might take in response to a Russian invasion, Stoltenberg focused on economic sanctions.
“NATO is a platform to make decisions but also to consult and coordinate efforts by NATO-allied countries,” he said. “So for instance, on economic sanctions, political reactions, even though NATO doesn’t necessarily make the decisions to impose sanctions, that’s for individual allies to do, and for the European Union … the political discussion we have here is actually shaping the decisions we take as individual allies.
“Therefore also economic sanctions and political reactions is part of what we have discussed today, also with the United States,” Stoltenberg said. “We represent 50 percent of the world’s GDP and of course it matters when NATO allies discuss also the use of economic sanctions against the behavior of Russia.”
He added, “We have seen our resolve and our willingness and our ability to maintain, sustain such economic sanctions when needed. I think that Russia actually underestimated the resolve of NATO allies to impose sanctions and sustain sanctions after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that NATO and Western powers, particularly Washington, were trying to incite Ukraine into a new military conflict with Russia, and he insisted that it was Russia that was under a growing threat.
“Significant units and military equipment of NATO countries, including American and British, are being deployed closer to our borders,” Lavrov said, responding to a question about NATO’s support for Ukraine during his own news conference in Moscow Tuesday with Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto França.
Lavrov appeared to be referring to NATO battle groups that were deployed in Poland and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. All four countries are members of NATO.
Lavrov said Ukraine was increasing its troop levels near the line of contact in Donbas, and he accused Ukraine’s military of using heavy weapons and drones prohibited under the Minsk 2 peace agreement.
“We have no right to exclude the possibility that the Kyiv regime will break into a military adventure,” Lavrov said. “All this creates a direct threat to the security of the Russian Federation.”
This article has been updated with comments from Sergey Lavrov and Vladimir Putin.