Ukraine crisis: Russia has 'massive invasion force ready to attack', Nato chief says

·4-min read
Jens Stoltenberg has said Russia still has a
Jens Stoltenberg has said Russia still has a "massive invasion force ready to attack" amid growing tensions around Ukraine (Sky News)

Russia currently has a "massive invasion force ready to attack" Ukraine, the head of Nato has warned, as Vladimir Putin showed no signs of de-escalating the growing crisis.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin announced some of its 130,000 troops were being withdrawn from the border of Ukraine to return to their permanent bases, sparking hopes Putin may be backing down.

Western intelligence appears to suggest otherwise, with defence secretary Ben Wallace warning of a continued build-up of field hospitals and strategic weapons systems in the region.

Speaking on Wednesday, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg described the situation as the"most serious security crisis in decades", but said it was not too late for Russia to "step back from the brink."

He also hinted efforts to deter Putin from invading were becoming Nato's longer term attitude towards Russia.

"Allies welcome all diplomatic efforts and there are signs from Moscow that diplomacy could continue but so far we do not see any sign of de-escalation on the ground," he told reporters in Brussels.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 16, 2022: Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting with Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro at Moscow's Kremlin. Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images)
Stoltenberg also hinted efforts to deter Putin from invading were becoming part of a longer term attitude from Nato (Getty)

"No withdrawals of troops or equipment. This may of course change. However, what we see today is that Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack with high end capabilities from Crimea to Belarus.

"This is the biggest concentration of forces in Europe since the Cold War."

He added: "We do not know what will happen in Ukraine, but the situation has already demonstrated we face a crisis in European security.

"Moscow has made it clear that it is prepared to contest the fundamental principles that have underpinned our security for decades and to do so while using force.

"I regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe."

Moscow hit back against accusations of inflaming tensions, with Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov accusing Nato of “stepping up” military exercises close to its western and southern borders and of pushing “alarmist propaganda”.

Read more: Putin says 'we don't want war' despite claims of genocide in Ukraine

Stoltenberg said that ministers are drawing up plans to further strengthen Nato’s deterrence and defence, including to establish new battle groups in central and eastern and south-eastern Europe.

France has offered to lead such a battle group in Romania, he added.

He said: “Even if we see a gradual or some kind of development where Russia decides not to use force… just the fact that they have been willing to amass all these troops and combine that with a message that they are threatening an independent country and actually also threatening Nato allies – that if we don’t violate core principles for our security there will be serious consequences – that in itself is serious.

“And that’s the reason why we need to consider some more longer-term adjustments to our posture in the east.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a joint press conference with German Chancellor following their meeting over Ukraine security at the Kremlin, in Moscow, on February 15, 2022. - The Kremlin, earlier on February 15, 2022, confirmed a pullback of some Russian forces from Ukraine's borders but said the move was planned and stressed Russia would continue to move troops across the country as it saw fit. (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik / AFP) (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Defence secretary Ben Wallace has warned he believes Putin is using similar tactics to what were seen in 1930s Germany. (Getty)
A tank takes part in a military drill in St Petersburg, Russia. (Getty)

The threat of invasion has hung over Ukraine for weeks, with the US and UK in particular warning that troops could invade at a moment's notice.

Ben Wallace said on Wednesday: “The Russians have overwhelming forces over Ukraine and if they really wish to inflict violence and invade, they could do that.

“The Ukrainians would put up a brave resistance. I made it very clear to the Russians the Ukrainians will fight, but those odds are overwhelming and no-one should delude themselves that they’re not.”

Putin has repeatedly said he doesn't want a war, but ramped up the rhetoric on Tuesday with claims of a genocide against the Russian-speaking population in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Watch: Boris Johnson warns intelligence into Russian activity is still not encouraging