NATO must contain Russia’s troop buildup along the Ukrainian border or risk war between the two countries, Ukraine’s foreign minister warned Tuesday during a press conference at the military alliance’s headquarters.
Taking steps to counteract Moscow’s aggression “may look costly, but the price of prevention will still be lower than the price of stopping the war and mitigating its consequences,” Dmytro Kuleba said during a press conference in Brussels with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Such measures, Kuleba said, could include “a new round of sanctions” or “a direct support aimed at strengthening Ukraine’s defense capabilities.”
He said: “It’s better to act now to prevent Russia from further escalating the situation,” adding that Ukraine doesn’t want war.
In recent days, NATO and G7 members have raised concerns about growing Russian military movements along the country’s eastern Ukraine border and into Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Moscow’s military buildup is its largest in the region since the annexation, raising questions about whether the Kremlin is plotting another invasion.
Attention has focused on eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which pro-Russian separatists seized at one point in April 2014. Back then, Kuleba said, it wasn’t out of the question that Russia itself would go that far, and now, “I can’t exclude anything.”
But, he added, “I do believe we have all tools available not only to prevent Russia from making a single step forward, but also to make it withdraw from the occupied territories of Ukraine.”
Ukraine is on a diplomatic blitz this week, trying to garner support for its position. Kuleba is set to meet later on Tuesday with U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Brussels, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Friday. Meanwhile, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis will travel to Kyiv later this week, and his Estonian and Latvian counterparts are expected to join.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Stoltenberg described NATO support for Ukraine as “unwavering,” calling the Russian military buildup “deeply concerning” and “unjustified.” He demanded Moscow “stop its provocations” and deescalate the situation.
One element of the tensions between Moscow and Kyiv is the possibility that Ukraine could join NATO, taking the country further out of Russia’s orbit. Stoltenberg stressed that the alliance — not Moscow — will choose whether Ukraine joins NATO: “It is for the 30 NATO allies to decide when Ukraine is ready for NATO membership, and no one else has any right to try to meddle or to interfere in that process.”
He added: “Russia is now trying to reestablish some kind of sphere of influence where they try to decide what neighbours can do.”
For Ukraine, Kuleba said, NATO membership “is a matter of time.”