NATO mulls longer-term military posture in eastern Europe, Stoltenberg says

BRUSSELS, Feb 7 (Reuters) - NATO is considering a longer-term military posture in eastern Europe to strengthen its defences, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, as tensions remained high over Russia's military build-up near Ukraine.

"We are considering more longer-term adjustments to our posture, our presence in the eastern part of the alliance. No final decision has been made on that but there is a process now going on within NATO", he told reporters in Brussels.

NATO defence ministers are expected to discuss reinforcements at their next meeting on Feb. 16-17. Western governments have urged Moscow to withdraw troops from Ukraine's borders, especially if Russia wants to see fewer deployments in eastern NATO allied states.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attends a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda (not pictured) at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 7, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

"If Russia really wants less NATO close to the borders, they get the opposite," Stoltenberg said at a news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, referring to NATO's response to deploy battlegroups on its eastern territory following Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

NATO currently has troops rotating in and out of eastern Europe, a so-called persistent, but not permanent, presence.

From the Baltics to the Black Sea, NATO's troop deployments have been intentionally light, officials say, to try to deter but not provoke any further Russian aggression. Hungary and Slovakia have been mentioned by Western officials as potential hosts for NATO troops, although no decisions have been made.

In addition to U.S. troops already in Poland, around 1,700 U.S. service members, mainly from the 82nd Airborne Division, are deploying this week from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to the country.

Reporting by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold, Editing by William Maclean

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