U.S. and European officials cautioned Moscow on Sunday not to do anything rash with the deployment of new U.S. and NATO warships, planes and other military assets near Russia’s borders, especially during Europe’s weekend of national pride.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday that Russia’s troop buildup in the Baltic Sea and airspace violations in air space over Poland, Lithuania and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad “have serious consequences” and need to be taken “very seriously.”
The actions “are not just destabilizing behavior, they are dangerous behavior and can lead to conflict,” Stoltenberg said.
The secretary-general was speaking ahead of the start of celebrations Sunday for the 70th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Stoltenberg said the Russian actions run counter to the spirit of that fall “but of course it is also the spirit of peace and stability of Europe that I would expect Russia to respect.”
Military commanders said Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent armored combat vehicles and other weapons to Russia’s Baltic Sea fleet, which includes a significant number of vessels equipped with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.
In addition, the Russian military has put additional troops on high alert in the wake of the latest U.S. buildup of NATO forces in the Baltic region, in response to a recent Russian incursion into Ukraine.
NATO officials on Saturday called Russian military moves near Finland and Ukraine “provocative and destabilizing.”
“We want to see the denuclearization of the Kaliningrad enclave and we want to see greater restraint by Russia in this situation. A lot of questions have been raised but we will let the armed forces of the alliance explain themselves,” Stoltenberg said.
Nato allies also will take part in the commemoration in Berlin alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but Stoltenberg did not disclose any military moves the alliance might make on the sidelines of the celebrations to which Russia has been notably, and publicly, excluded.
Alexander Vershbow, former U.S. ambassador to NATO and now the deputy chairman of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee, said any military deployment in the Baltic Sea or exclave of Kaliningrad “would certainly have a destabilizing effect in the Baltics and in Eastern Europe.”
“You can expect U.S. allies to ratchet up their self-confidence” by deploying increased forces and capabilities there, he told The Associated Press.
While NATO says it has no intention of deploying into Russia’s former Soviet Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, Vershbow said it is impossible for the alliance to know Russia’s intentions and its intentions are not “necessarily positive.”
“Russia is obviously seeking some signal of strength and sovereignty. The Baltic Sea is clearly an area that lends itself to mobilization,” Vershbow said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that while the United States does not plan to send military hardware to the Baltics, NATO countries could do so.
“Our goal, regardless of the flags being lowered or the speeches being given, is that everybody remains on the same page, maintains the same level of pressure and that is in making sure Russia does not destabilize Europe and that they will only act with respect,” she said.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin has said NATO’s buildup of troops in the Baltics should not be allowed to “provoke an unacceptable military confrontation.”
At a time when Russian officials have publicly regretted a decision to intervene in Ukraine’s war in 2014, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Saturday cautioned about any attempt to weaken Russia.
“It’s not the right approach to allow those who are preparing for a declaration of war to sit quietly somewhere and wait for their results,” Peskov said.