Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, has suggested NATO should expand its presence in Eastern Europe to defend friendly states outside the US-led military bloc.
Speaking with the organisation’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday, Duda cited the alleged recent “relocation of Russian forces around the Ukrainian border.” He said that the group should make its presence felt to a greater degree on its eastern flank to “show all potential aggressors that NATO is ready.” He went on to describe Kiev as an important external partner, whose security is at stake.
Stoltenberg echoed the Polish president’s concerns over Ukraine and called on Russia to “be transparent, reduce tensions and de-escalate the situation.” The NATO chief, however, stopped short of commenting on any military expansion near Russia’s borders, adding that the foreign ministers of NATO member states will convene in Latvia next week to discuss the situation with their counterparts from Ukraine and Georgia, another country which the bloc is trying to pull into its orbit.
On Sunday, the Kremlin dismissed reports in Western media about Moscow’s alleged plans to invade Ukraine as “artificially fomented hysteria.” The Russian Foreign Ministry accused NATO of creating tensions along the country’s Western border.
Among other hot-button topics that dominated the talks between Duda and Stoltenberg on Thursday was the migrant crisis on the frontier with Belarus. The Polish leader claimed that Minsk was continuing its “hybrid attack,” by which he meant “weaponizing” migrants. He asserted that it enjoyed the full support of Moscow in doing so, but noted, however, that the tactics allegedly used by Belarusian authorities at the border have somewhat changed. Now smaller groups of asylum seekers are trying to cross, to the EU, under the cover of darkness, Duda reported, as opposed to previous large pushes in broad daylight.
Stoltenberg, in turn, noted that Warsaw has so far been able to successfully tackle the migrant crisis on its own, without the bloc’s direct intervention. Stoltenberg added that NATO stands in solidarity with Poland and is ready to consider any requests for assistance.
Belarus has maintained all along that sweeping Western sanctions are stifling its ability to effectively manage migrant flows headed for the EU. Russia, for its part, has consistently claimed it has nothing to do with the crisis on the EU border.