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NATO chief Stoltenberg cautions that warning time for Russian attack on Ukraine is decreasing

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the warning time for a Russian attack on Ukraine is decreasing, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson added that the West still does not know if Russia has made a decision to invade.

Despite a flurry of diplomacy by Western leaders, including meetings with senior Russian officials in Moscow including President Vladimir Putin, Johnson said he does not think a decision has been taken by the Kremlin on attacking Ukraine, but warned “the stakes are very high” and this remains “a very dangerous moment.”

Johnson was at NATO headquarters in Brussels for a meeting with the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“I believe that if we can keep a strong grip on the fundamentals, those fundamental principles that define our alliance, and combine strong deterrence with patient diplomacy, then we can find a way through this crisis,” Johnson said, speaking at a press conference after the meeting. “I honestly don’t think a decision [to attack] has yet been taken, but that doesn’t mean that it is impossible that something absolutely disastrous could happen very soon indeed. Our intelligence, I’m afraid to say, remains grim.”

NATO must be ready for a further Russian incursion in Ukraine even while the emphasis remains on finding a diplomatic solution, Stoltenberg said. Russia is currently menacing Ukraine with more than 100,000 troops and military hardware amassed on the border.

“This is a dangerous moment for European security. The number of Russian forces is going up, the warning time for a possible attack is going down. We must be prepared for the worst, while remaining strongly committed to finding a political solution,” he said.

Stoltenberg revealed he sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday reiterating his invitation to Russia to continue dialogue in a series of meetings in the NATO-Russia Council.

“We are prepared to listen to Russia’s concerns and ready to discuss ways to uphold and strengthen the fundamental principles of European security that we all have signed up to,” Stoltenberg added.

Johnson said the agenda for discussions with Moscow includes issues such as transparency about NATO exercises, force posturing and the stationing of missiles, and Russia’s breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces area.

However, NATO defense ministers will assess options for further strengthening allied security next week, Stoltenberg said, warning the alliance “will not compromise on core principles,” including the “right of each nation to choose its own path and NATO’s ability to protect and defend all allies.”

Johnson backed Stoltenberg, saying NATO’s open-door policy allowing Ukraine to aspire to membership is “non-negotiable.” The West is willing to “reassure Russia” but that “must be accompanied by de-escalation” from Moscow, the prime minister said.

Ahead of the meeting, Johnson announced a further 1,000 British troops were on standby and ready for deployment in NATO member countries in Eastern Europe if needed. At the press conference, Johnson did not rule out giving Ukraine military support or backing an insurgency in the event of an attack by Russia.

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