High Alert: NATO Sends Troops, Warplanes East to Counter Russian Threat

Several NATO member states are sending troops and hardware to allies in Eastern Europe as tensions with Russia escalate. The United States has put several thousand troops on alert. Moscow has over 100,000 troops amassed on the Ukraine border, and the West fears an imminent Russian invasion, which the Kremlin denies. Henry Ridgwell looks at what NATO’s military response means.
 
Camera: Henry Ridgwell

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Kenya Government Fighting Vaccine Hesitancy

While Kenya has seen the percentage of people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus gradually increase to 19%, some people – like nomadic herders – have been harder to reach.  So, Kenyan authorities offered an incentive – herders who get the jab can also get routine vaccinations and medicines for their livestock. For VOA, Brenda Mulinya reports from Isiolo, Kenya.

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High Alert: NATO Sends Troops, Warplanes East to Counter Russian Threat 

NATO member states are sending thousands of troops, warplanes and ships to allies in eastern Europe as tensions with Russia escalate over Moscow’s deployment of more than 100,000 troops to its border with Ukraine. The West fears an imminent Russian invasion, which the Kremlin denies.

Four Danish F-16 fighter jets landed in Lithuania last week to bolster NATO’s air policing mission in the Baltic. Since Russia’s 2014 forceful annexation of Crimea, NATO has deployed between 4,000 and 5,000 troops in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in what the alliance terms an “enhanced forward presence.”

US troops 

The United States has put 8,500 troops on standby. “I’ll be moving U.S. troops to eastern Europe and NATO countries in the near term,” U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters Friday. 

The U.S. already has tens of thousands of troops stationed in Europe, mostly in Germany and Britain. One scenario could see some of those personnel gradually shifted to eastern NATO allies. 

NATO allies 

France has announced plans to deploy hundreds of troops to Romania. “As President Macron recalled last week, we have sizably contributed to the security of our European partners in NATO missions in Baltic states and we will continue to do so,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said during a visit to Bucharest on January 27.

“In the same spirit, he indicated our availability to go further and within the NATO framework to engage in new EFP (enhanced forward presence) missions, particularly in Romania, if NATO decides it,” Parly added. 

Spain, the Netherlands and Germany are also considering sending troops, aircraft and warships to eastern European allies. 

Anti-tank weapons 

Britain has supplied about 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and is expected to offer further deployments to NATO allies this week, potentially doubling its current commitment of about 1,150 troops. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to visit Ukraine this week and hold talks on the phone with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. 

British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said the deployments are intended to send a message to Moscow. 

“I think it is important when it comes to military deployment that we signal to President Putin that the very thing he fears, which is more NATO closer to Russia, would be the consequence of a strategic error of invading a sovereign country such as Ukraine,” Wallace told reporters Monday following talks with his Hungarian counterpart in Budapest. 

Deterrence 

However, NATO has no plans to deploy combat troops to Ukraine, notes security analyst Julie Norman of University College London. 

“Those NATO troops that are in those border states are really there more for preparedness and for a defensive and deterrence capability, rather than expectation for direct conflict or direct combat.” 

Norman says the NATO deployments could be rapidly strengthened. “If there is indeed a conflict … those border states will be reinforced further than what they currently have. There’s already NATO troops in most of those states, but this would bolster them by about double the amount, to start,” Norman told VOA. 

NATO says it is responding to Russian aggression. Moscow has labelled the Western response “hysteria” and denies it has any plans to invade Ukraine, instead claiming that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet-bloc countries poses a security risk.

Belarus threat 

Russia has about 100,000 troops deployed close to the Ukrainian border. Thousands more arrived in Belarus for joint military exercises this week. 

Evelyn N. Farkas, a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, says Western allies had to respond. 

“NATO itself has had to respond to a new threat Russia posed by putting additional forces into Belarus, which of course shares a border with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, which are NATO allies,” Farkas told a recent panel discussion hosted by London-based Chatham House. 

NATO’s deployments in eastern Europe could ratchet up tensions with Russia’s president, says Norman. 

“Putin’s key demand in all of this is the drawdown of NATO troops and weaponry from those same eastern states. So, the fact that there is more buildup, that is going to be seen not as an act of defense, but an act of offense and provocation by Russia.” 

 

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Mali Orders Expulsion of French Ambassador

Mali said it is expelling the French ambassador because of “hostile and outrageous” comments by former colonial power France about Mali’s transitional government.

A statement read on national television Monday said French Ambassador Joel Meyer has been given 72 hours to leave the country. 

“This measure follows the hostile and outrageous comments made recently by the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the recurrence of such comments by the French authorities with regard to the Malian authorities, despite repeated protests,” the statement said. 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that Mali’s junta was “illegitimate and takes irresponsible measures.” He also described the junta as “out of control.” 

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday that it would recall Meyer from Mali. 

Relations between Mali and France deteriorated this month after the junta went back on an agreement to organize elections in February. Instead, the junta has proposed staying in power for up to another five years. 

European nations have also expressed concern that Mali’s interim government has accepted private Russian security contractors. 

France has had troops in Mali since 2013 when it sent forces at the request of Malian leaders to stop Islamist militants who were advancing on the capital. The latest dispute raises questions about whether French troops will remain in the country. 

Last week, Mali’s junta demanded that Denmark withdraw its newly arrived contingent of soldiers to Mali. The junta accused Denmark of deploying without authorization, a charge Copenhagen denied. 

Denmark’s foreign minister said Friday that it supports France in the latest diplomatic dispute. 

“Reports the French Ambassador has been declared Persona Non Grata by Mali transitional authorities are unacceptable. Denmark stands in full solidarity with France,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a tweet on Friday. 

Mali’s interim leader Assimi Goita seized power in August 2020 citing widespread popular dissatisfaction toward elected leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. However, less than a year later in May 2021, Goita overthrew the transitional government that he helped set up, citing a Cabinet reshuffle that excluded two key military leaders.

Goita claimed the move violated the terms of the new government. French President Emmaneul Macron called the action “a coup within a coup.” 

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse. 

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Turkish-Made Drones in Ukraine Pose Challenge for Turkey-Russia Ties

With Russian forces poised to attack Ukraine, Turkish-made drones are set to face a big test in battle as well as a challenge to Turkey’s relations with Russia. Despite warnings from Moscow, Turkish firms have continued to supply Kyiv with armed drones. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

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UK’s Johnson Apologizes Following Release of ‘Partygate’ Report

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized before Parliament Monday following the release of a report concluding that parties held at the prime minister’s official residence during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown represented “serious failures” to observe the standards set by the government.

The report, conducted by senior civil servant Sue Gray, examined a series of gatherings that had been held at No. 10 Downing St. in 2020 and 2021 when much of Britain was under strict pandemic restrictions.

“The gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government, but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time,” Gray said in the report.

She also made note of “excessive consumption of alcohol” at the gatherings, which she said “is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.”

Gray said some of the gatherings “should not have been allowed to develop as they did,” and others should not have been held at all. She looked specifically at four gatherings, saying she withheld comment on 12 other events that the metropolitan police were investigating to determine if laws were broken.

In his comments to Parliament, Johnson apologized for “the things we simply didn’t get right” and “for the way that this matter has been handled.” He said he understood people’s anger and accepted Gray’s findings “in full,” as well as “her recommendation that we must learn from these events and act now.”

Johnson had previously said that no rules had been broken. He has dismissed calls from lawmakers — even those in his own party — to resign.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters. 

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