The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is expected to deploy more troops to the alliance’s eastern flank composed of Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia as Ukrainian officials called for help to rescue around 100,000 people trapped in Mariupol amidst the war with Russia.

“I expect leaders will agree to strengthen NATO’s posture in all domains, with major increases in the eastern part of the alliance on land, in the air and at sea,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. He added that since the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia War, NATO has prepared more than 140,000 troops across the continent. 

“There is a new sense of urgency because we cannot take peace for granted,” Stoltenberg said.

He also warned Russia against employing nuclear weapons in Ukraine, calling for a stop to Moscow’s “dangerous, irresponsible nuclear rhetoric.”

Stoltenberg added that any use of biological or chemical weapons would have “far-reaching consequences” while stressing that NATO was ready to “protect and defend allies against any threat, any time.”

NATO considers permanently deploying troops on eastern flank

The alliance is taking into consideration permanently deploying troops along the eastern flank, another NATO official stated.

“NATO is in the process now of stepping back and thinking more about a medium and longer-term force presence in NATO territory on that eastern flank,” said U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith when she spoke to an Atlantic Council audience on March 23, noting that the move will deliver “a pretty clear message to Moscow.”

“Permanent stationing could be one solution, and persistent rotation is another option that could be on the table. So at this point, what we need to do is have our military commanders give us the best advice that they can come to us with specific proposals, and then as an alliance we’ll look at what the security environment requires,” Smith added.

Until now, NATO and the United States have promised not to deploy troops to Ukraine or establish a no-fly zone over the country, warning that doing either would virtually intensify the conflict with Russia.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on March 23 that more than 100,000 civilians are trapped in the beleaguered city of Mariupol.

“As of today, there are about 100,000 people in the city, in inhumane conditions, in a complete blockade. No food, no water, no medicine. Under constant shelling, under constant bombing,” Zelenskyy told Japanese officials while pleading for aid and sanctions against Russia.

It is unclear how much of Mariupol remains under Ukrainian control with escaping residents saying that fighting continues in every street. In their latest update a week ago, Mariupol officials said no less than 2,300 people had been killed, but the real death toll is probably much higher. Airstrikes in the previous week destroyed an art school and a theater where civilians were taking shelter.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said following a “careful review of available information,” Washington concluded that Russian troops had committed war crimes by attacking civilians.

In the past week U.S. President Joe Biden has pictured Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal.” The comment has enraged the Kremlin, which displays no sign of backing down a month into the invasion.

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