(AFP) NATO said Thursday there have been around 400 intercepts of Russian military flights near its member countries this year, amid heightened tension between Moscow and the West over the Ukraine crisis.
He spoke from the Amari air base that hosts the Western defence alliance’s air policy mission over the Baltic states, following talks with Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas.
It was his first stop on a tour of the three Baltic states that were once ruled from Moscow and which, like fellow newer NATO member Poland, have been deeply concerned by Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
The West believes Russia is pulling the strings in the deadly seven-month conflict between pro-Western government forces and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east — an accusation the Kremlin denies.
Stoltenberg said NATO had seen “more than 100 intercepts, which is three times more than last year” around the Baltic region alone, but reiterated that the alliance would protect its members.
He later travelled to Latvian capital Riga, where he reacted to Russia’s Wednesday call for Ukraine to stay out of the NATO alliance.
Requiring Kiev to give such a guarantee violates “the idea of respecting the independence, the sovereignty of Ukraine,” he said after talks with Latvian President Andris Berzins.
He said he expects Russia to “respect” the decision of Ukraine were it to apply for NATO membership “later on”.