NATO is likely to send more troops to the alliance’s eastern flank, sending battle groups to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Wednesday, as Ukrainian officials warned that 100,000 people are trapped in Mariupol amid the conflict with Russia.
“I expect leaders will agree to strengthen NATO’s posture in all domains, with major increases in the eastern part of the alliance on land, in the air, and at sea,” Stoltenberg said ahead of Thursday’s NATO summit in Brussels.
Since the start of the Ukraine–Russia conflict, NATO has readied more than 140,000 troops across the continent, Stoltenberg added.
The alliance, meanwhile, is considering permanently stationing troops along the eastern flank, according to another NATO official.
“NATO is in the process now of stepping back and thinking more about a medium and longer-term force presence in NATO territory on that eastern flank,” U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told an Atlantic Council audience on Wednesday, saying the move will send “a pretty clear message to Moscow.”
“Permanent stationing could be one solution or persistent rotations as another option that could be on the table. So at this point, what we need to do is have our military commanders give us the best advice that they can come to us with specific proposals and then as an alliance, look at what the security environment requires,” Smith said.
So far, NATO and the United States have pledged not to send troops to Ukraine or establish a no-fly zone over the country, warning that doing either would significantly escalate the conflict with Russia.
The development comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that more than 100,000 civilians are trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol.
“As of today, there are about 100,000 people in the city, in inhumane conditions, in a complete blockade,” he told Japanese officials while pleading for aid and sanctions against Russia. “No food, no water, no medicine. Under constant shelling, under constant bombing.”
It is not clear how much of Mariupol is still under Ukrainian control. Fleeing residents say fighting continues street by street. In their last update, over a week ago, Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people had died, but the true toll is probably much higher. Airstrikes in the past week destroyed a theater and an art school where civilians were sheltering.
Western officials say Putin’s forces are facing serious shortages of food, fuel, and cold weather gear, with soldiers suffering frostbite, while Ukraine’s defenders have been going more on the offensive.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times