As NATO leaders discuss nuclear readiness during a closed-door meeting, Moscow warns against Western involvement.
The United States has reaffirmed its commitment to defend “every inch” of NATO territory as closed-door discussions of the alliance’s Nuclear Planning Group begin in Brussels.
As members moved forward Thursday with plans for a nuclear exercise, Russia bristled and issued warnings in case Ukraine joined NATO.
“Kyiv is well aware that such a step would mean a guaranteed escalation to a Third World War,” Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Alexander Venediktov told the state news agency TASS. “The suicidal nature of such a step is understood by NATO members themselves.”
During Thursday’s talks, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: “We are committed to defending every inch of NATO territory, for as long as it comes to that.”
He also announced the latest weapons and air defense systems that Washington will provide to Ukraine to help its war effort.
Fabrice Pothier, head of the political consulting firm Rasmussen Global, told Al Jazeera that NATO members were trying to balance their support for Ukraine without worsening an already fragile situation.
“[What they] are trying to get it right is responding and pushing back [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s escalation, whether political or military, at the same time does not trigger a chain of events that could lead to an even worse escalation,” he said. “It’s about being smart about the kind of response that can help Putin fall into his own failure and defeat without triggering the worst response.”
Thursday’s program at NATO headquarters includes discussions on how to give a clear signal to industry to increase weapons production for both Ukraine’s internal needs and defense.
The meeting comes as global fears of nuclear war simmer after Putin’s thinly veiled threats of nuclear attack and as Russian bombs increasingly hit Ukraine.
On Wednesday, an unnamed senior NATO official told Reuters that a nuclear strike would “almost certainly draw a physical response from many allies and potentially from NATO itself.” The official did not provide further details.
Meanwhile, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said NATO’s nuclear readiness exercise, planned for next week, “is all about readiness.”
“The NATO meeting is about making sure we’re ready for anything,” he said. “I mean, that’s the job of this alliance: to make sure that all 30 partners together are ready for whatever comes our way. And we have to keep working on that.”
During the annual exercise, called Steadfast Noon, NATO air forces will practice how to use US nuclear bombs based in Europe by conducting training flights without real weapons.
Canceling the drills because of the war in Ukraine would send a “very wrong signal,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.