Feb. 10 (UPI) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg repeated the defense bloc’s commitment to Ukraine on Wednesday in a press conference with the nation’s prime minister, as he noted a buildup of Russian troops in the region and importance of the Black Sea.
Although Ukraine is an “Enhanced Opportunities Partner” and not a full NATO member, Stoltenberg cited Ukrainian involvement in NATO missions during a press conference Tuesday in Brussels, just after meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
Shmyhal also announced the start of construction of two naval bases in Ukraine, “one in the Black Sea, one in the Azov Sea.”
Shmyhal noted that an increase in the country’s defense budget to 5.93 percent of gross domestic product, “the biggest allocations for defense and security” in years, would fund the bases, along with financial help from Britain.
Calling Ukraine “one of NATO’s closest and most important partners,” Stoltenberg reiterated NATO condemnation of Russia’s “illegal annexation, and it’s aggressive actions in eastern Ukraine.”
“NATO also continues to provide strong practical support to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. “This includes more exercises, port visits, and information sharing on the Black Sea region. Just some days ago, the US Navy destroyer USS Porter trained with Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea, and Spanish aircraft are currently conducting NATO air policing in the region.”
NATO’s aggressive posture against Russia comes after a Jan. 26 conversation between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Biden raised issues of concern regarding recent Russian actions.
These actions have included a cyberattack affecting multiple government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, reported Russian bounties placed on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 presidential election and the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The same day, Biden spoke with Stoltenberg via telephone and “conveyed his intention to consult and work with allies on the full range of shared security concerns, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Russia,” according to a White House readout of the call.
“President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to collective defense under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and underscored his commitment to strengthening transatlantic security,” a White House statement said.
On Feb. 2, the U.S. Air Force announced that over 200 personnel, and a B-1 bomber squadron, from Texas’ Dyess Air Force Base will be deployed to Norway in support of upcoming Bomber Task Force missions at Norway’s Orland Air Base.