NEW: New NATO unit not a threat to Russia, White House says
NATO Leader: New unit will "travel light, but strike hard if needed
Moscow asks Ukrainian military to retreat from civilian locations
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calls for talks, not threats of sanctions
NATO members meeting this week in Wales are expected to create “a very high-readiness force” to deal with Russian aggression in Ukraine and other international conflicts, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday.
In a speech on the NATO website, Rasmussen said the fighting force will be part of an overall Readiness Action Plan that “responds to Russia’s aggressive behavior – but it equips the alliance to respond to all security challenges, wherever they may arise.”
He said this “spearhead” force would be able to “travel light, but strike hard if needed.”
NATO will look at possible upgrades to infrastructure that could include airfields and ports, he said.
The White House supports the idea of a rapid response team for NATO, but National Security Spokesman Caitlin Hayden cautioned that the force would be “defensive” in posture.
The new force is “not intended as a provocation, or as a threat to Russia, but rather as a demonstration of NATO’s continued commitment to our collective defense,” Hayden said.
New bases will be set up and equipment pre-positioned at bases, a NATO diplomatic source said.
“We are also facing crises to the southeast and south,” said a senior NATO official. The plan “needs to be able to deal with all crises that we might be facing in the future from wherever they might come.”
Rasmussen said President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine will attend the summit and NATO will “make clear our support for Ukraine.”
On the ground, Ukrainian forces appear to be outgunned by Russian rebels.
“We have seen as recently as Saturday, that the Ukrainian army is very, very unarmed compared to the rebels,” said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring the situation in Eastern Ukraine.
On Monday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that the presence of Russian soldiers on Ukraine soil is completely unjustified and unacceptable.
“Russia appears to be trying to force to Ukraine to abandon its democratic choices through the barrel of a gun,” he said.
Cameron said new sanctions measures will be drawn up by the EU within a week.
Ukraine airfield attack reported
A Russian army tank attacked airfields in eastern Ukraine on Monday, Ukrainian military officials said, amid worsening tensions between Kiev and Moscow.