Against a backdrop of fighter jets lined up along a Polish runway, NATO’s top official on Monday struck a diplomatic tone toward Russia as he asserted the alliance’s readiness to protect member states from any threat.
“NATO is here. NATO is here to protect you,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during his first overseas visit as the alliance’s new top civilian leader. “NATO is here to protect all allies.”
The former Norwegian prime minister also called on Russia to use its influence over separatists in Ukraine to honor a cease-fire that has increasingly been under threat of falling apart.
“We are very concerned that the cease-fire is violated so much,” said Stoltenberg, who assumed leadership of NATO last Wednesday. “I will call on Russia to use all their influence to make sure separatists are following the cease-fire.”
Stoltenberg stopped short of the kind of tough language used by his predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was known for his firm and frequent demands that Russia pull back its troops amassed along Ukraine’s border.
Still, in visiting Poland, Stoltenberg signaled that countering an increasingly assertive Russia would be a centerpiece of his tenure as secretary-general of an alliance that is wrestling with a security landscape vastly changed from a year ago.
His top priority will be implementing a NATO readiness plan that calls for a new rapid-reaction “spearhead force,” a series of staging bases in eastern Europe and a steady presence of rotational forces to man those bases.
In Poland, Stoltenberg credited NATO forces with protecting the skies over the Baltics, where alliance aircraft routinely patrol as part of an air-policing mission that has quadrupled in size in recent months.