BRUSSELS – NATO is strengthening its military footprint along its eastern border immediately in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine, the alliance's chief said Wednesday.
Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO's air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region and allied warships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere if needed.
"We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land," Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels, declining to give exact troop figures.
Moscow must make clear "it doesn't support the violent actions of well-armed militias or pro-Russian separatists" in eastern Ukraine, he added.
NATO's eastern members — including Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Poland — have been wary following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, demanding a more robust military deterrence to counter neighboring Russia.
Rasmussen said the new NATO deployments are about "deterrence and de-escalation" in the face of Russia's aggressive behavior.
NATO estimates Russia has amassed some 40,000 troops on Ukraine's eastern border and could invade if it wished. Fogh Rasmussen again urged Russia to pull those troops back.
The NATO chief did not mention naval deployments to the Black Sea — which Russia would likely see as a direct aggression even though NATO members Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey also border the sea.
He insisted, however, that "more will follow if needed."
There are also no apparent plans to deploy ground troops to reinforce alliance members closest to Russia.
Rasmussen spoke after NATO's decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, approved recommendations from U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the alliance's supreme commander in Europe, on how to beef up defenses of member states closest to Russia.
The 28-nation alliance has already suspended most cooperation and talks with Russia. The United States has dispatched fighter planes to Poland and the Baltics, enabling NATO to reinforce air patrols on its eastern border. NATO also performs daily AWACs surveillance flights over Poland and Romania.