Stoltenberg says NATO is

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the transatlantic alliance is “ready to engage in political dialogue” but “also prepared for the worst — Russia once again using force against its neighbor, Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg made the comments in a Friday interview with CBS News “Face the Nation” moderator and chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan. The interview with Stoltenberg comes as Russia reviews the United States’ response to its demands amid the Russian military buildup near Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and President Biden spoke on the phone Thursday to address the situation, and Mr. Biden has been consulting with European allies. 

Mr. Biden said at a press conference last week that it was his “guess” that Russia would invate Ukraine. Asked if Russian military force in Ukraine is imminent, Stoltenberg said there’s “no certainty.” 

“Well, there’s uncertainty about the Russian plans, and maybe they have not made any final decision,” Stoltenberg said. “… We are ready to engage in political dialogue, but we’re also ready to respond if Russia chooses and armed conflict, confrontation. So we are ready for both options. We are working hard for the best peaceful political solution, but we are also prepared for the worst — Russia once again using force against a neighbor, Ukraine.” 

Jens Stoltenberg on “Face the Nation,” June 4, 2017.

CBS News

Ukraine is not a NATO member, and Russia has sought assurances that Ukraine will never be a NATO member. Stoltenberg described what preparation looks like militarily. 

“We have already, after Russia used force against Ukraine in 2014, for the first time in our history deployed combat-ready NATO battle groups in the eastern part of the alliance—in the Baltic countries and in Poland,” he said. “We have air-policing both in the Black Sea region and in the Baltic region. We have more naval presence, and over the last weeks we have actually stepped up the number of planes and ships in these different missions.”

But Stoltenberg declined to say what the threshold is for deploying a NATO response force. 

“We will never give any potential adversary that kind of privilege of defining exactly the threshold,” Stoltenberg said. “What we will do is that we will always be sure that we have the necessary forces in the right place at the right time to defend and protect all allies.”

Stoltenberg said NATO’s core task is to defend its 30 allies, which represent roughly 1 billion people across North America and Europe. But the alliance has now stepped up its presence in its eastern parts for the first time in its history, so “if Russia wants less NATO at its borders, they’ve actually achieved exactly the opposite.”

In a news conference Friday, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Ukraine has the right to be independent, and strongly encouraged Russia to stand down. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said “conflict is not inevitable,” and there is still time for diplomacy. 

— CBS News’ Mary Walsh, Richard Escobedo and Eleanor Watson contributed to this report. 

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