NATO has opened a new military command center in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius amid growing tensions between the West and Russia over the issue of Ukraine.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the so-called NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU) in Vilnius on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described the move as “a big step forward towards greater solidarity, greater strength, and greater readiness.”
According to an official NATO press release, the NFIU in Lithuania is one of the six such units that have been opened this month. The other five are based in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Romania.
The NATO units “are part of the Readiness Action Plan, the biggest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” the press release stated.
Underlining the significance of the NFIUs, the NATO chief said, “They will ensure that, should our forces need to move, they can move quickly and effectively. And they help send a very clear message: no NATO ally stands alone.”
During the inaugural event, which was also attended by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Stoltenberg said NATO needs to respond to what he referred to as an assertive Russia.
Grybauskaite welcomed the opening of the new military bases in Eastern European countries near the Russian border, saying that the units would ensure the quick movement of NATO forces.
At a joint press conference with Grybauskaite, the NATO chief also thanked the Lithuanian government for its commitment to NATO as well as the role it plays in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He further welcomed Lithuania’s determination to increase defense spending over the coming years, calling this “an example for other allies.”
The US-led force has boosted its military presence in Eastern Europe in recent months in the wake of the conflict between the Western-backed Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia groups in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has repeatedly censured NATO’s growing war games and military buildup toward its borders.
Kiev and its Western allies accuse the Kremlin of meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs and backing pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine. Moscow, however, has strongly denied such allegations.
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