Russia's annexation of Crimea and its "direct involvement in agitating the situation in eastern Ukraine" has created a "new paradigm" that is forcing NATO to consider permanently stationing military assets in Eastern Europe, NATO's top military commander in Europe said Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, said he was tasked to set up "reassurance measures" for air, land and sea that will continue until Dec. 31. A mission extending beyond that would be possible but would be left to the discretion of NATO leaders and ministers of defence, he said.
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Asked whether the Ukraine crisis could lead to the permanent basing of NATO troops in Eastern Europe, Breedlove said, "I think this is something that we have to consider, and we will tee this up for discussion through the leaderships of our nations and see where that lands."
Tuesday's press conference was held jointly with Canada's top general, Chief of the Defence Staff Tom Lawson.
'Based on the new paradigm that we see Russia has presented … we are all going to have re-evaluate some of the decisions that we have made for structure, for positioning, for readiness' - U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander for Europe
Canada has been hosting the U.S. air force general for the past two days. On Monday, he sat down to discuss the Ukraine situation with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson.
Harper described Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "slow-motion invasion" ahead of that meeting and said recent developments in Eastern Ukraine were "very deeply concerning."
'Ready to be armed'
Several times during the press conference, Breedlove referred to the creation of a "new paradigm" with regard to Russia's actions in Ukraine.
"Based on the new paradigm that we see Russia has presented … we are all going to have to re-evaluate some of the decisions that we have made for structure, for positioning, for readiness, and … even more important in the short term, our force responsiveness will need to be re-evaluated," he said.
Lawson, for his part, outlined Canada's contributions to NATO's response to the Ukraine crisis, including sending 20 operational planning staff to NATO's headquarters in Belgium, the deployment of six CF-18 Hornets and the warship HMCS Regina.
Canada's contribution to the NATO operation:
- 6 CF-18 aircraft sent to Romania
- HMCS Regina frigate sent to the Mediterranean
- 50 soldiers in Poland for military exercises
- 1 heavy-lift plane
- 20 operational personnel sent to NATO headquarters in Belgium
Canada also has sent 50 soldiers to join NATO exercises in Poland.
"Given the fast-evolving situation with respect to Central and Eastern Europe, it was opportune for us to reiterate our contribution to NATO," Lawson said in French.
Lawson said the CF-18 Hornet fighter jets are in "training mode" and not armed but would be "ready to be armed as required, should any conditions change."
Tuesday's press conference came as Ukrainian troops tightened a security cordon around Slovyansk, a major insurgent-held city in the eastern part of the country.
On Monday, 30 pro-Russian separatists were killed in Slovyansk, along with four government troops during battles to rid the city of anti-government forces, according to Ukraine's interior minister.