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NATO beefs up east European flank

MOSCOW/BRUSSELS, January 24

NATO said on Monday that it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets, in what Russia denounced as an escalation of tensions over Ukraine.

The move added to a flurry of signals that the West was bracing for an aggressive Russian move against Ukraine. The Kremlin, in response, accused the West of “hysteria”.

“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the alliance,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

Britain said it was withdrawing some staff and dependants from its embassy in Ukraine in response to “a growing threat from Russia”, a day after the United States said it was ordering diplomats’ family members to leave.

“Military action by Russia could come at any time,” the US Embassy said in a statement. Officials “will not be in a position to evacuate American citizens in such a contingency, so US citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly,” it added.

US diplomats at the embassy in Kyiv were being allowed to leave voluntarily. Shares across the world fell as the risk of conflict quashed demand for riskier assets, and tension over Ukraine was among factors that pushed up oil prices.

Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine but has used its build-up of an estimated 100,000 troops near the border to force the West to negotiate over a range of demands to redraw the security map of Europe.

It wants NATO to scrap a promise to let Ukraine join one day and to pull back troops and weapons from former Communist countries in eastern Europe that joined it after the Cold War.

Washington says those demands are non-starters but it is ready to discuss other ideas on arms control, missile deployments and confidence-building measures.

Denmark, Spain, France and the Netherlands were all planning or considering sending troops, planes or ships to eastern Europe, NATO said. Ukraine shares borders with four NATO countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

The United States and the European Union, wary of Russia’s intentions since it seized Crimea and backed separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014, have warned Russia not to invade.

Meanwhile, Russia is awaiting a written response to its demands this week after talks held on last Friday —the fourth round this month — produced no breakthrough. — Reuters

UK: No plans to send troops to Ukraine

LONDON: Britain has no plans to send combat troops to Ukraine to help it defend itself against any Russian aggression, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Monday. Britain has already sent a small number of infantry troops to Ukraine to help with training in defensive weapons. Reuters

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