Russia's military buildup near Ukraine continues and the risk for conflict is real, NATO’s secretary general warned on Saturday.
“Despite Moscow's claims, we have seen no sign of withdrawal or de-escalation so far,” Jens Stoltenberg said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference in the German city.
He called on Russia “to do what it says” and withdraw its forces from the borders of Ukraine, as it pledged last week.
“It is not too late for Russia to change course. To step back from the brink. Stop preparing for war. And start working for a peaceful solution,” he added.
Stoltenberg underlined that NATO allies are ready to engage in a “substantive dialogue” with Moscow and to take “meaningful reciprocal steps” that can improve security for all countries in Europe.
Telling how he had invited Russia and all NATO allies to a series of meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, Stoltenberg said he reiterated this invitation on Thursday in a letter sent to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
He also voiced concern over the escalation of tensions in eastern Ukraine over the last couple of days, with growing number of cease-fire violations, multiple shelling incidents, and evacuation of civilians from the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“What we see taking place now just adds to that picture of a concern that they (Russia) are trying to create a pretext for an invasion,” he said, adding that NATO is extremely concerned about such attempts.
Russia’s current military buildup along Ukraine’s borders is the biggest deployment since the Cold War, Stoltenberg said.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden warned that he sees Russia invading Ukraine within “several days.”
Moscow has repeatedly denied any plan to invade Ukraine and has instead accused Western countries of undermining Russia’s security through NATO’s expansion toward its borders.
It also issued a list of security demands to the West, including a rollback of troop deployments from some ex-Soviet states and guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia would not join NATO.