The White House on Friday offered its strongest assessment yet that Russia could expand the war beyond Ukraine with invasions of other Eastern European countries, including NATO allies.
“We do believe that Russian aggression in Ukraine shows a willingness to disregard international borders and to disregard the basic rules of the road of the international community that have been built and sustained over the course of seven decades,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Previously, the White House had dismissed questions about whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would stop with Ukraine as hypotheticals.
But Mr. Sullivan signaled that the U.S. has been preparing for a potential Russian invasion of its Baltic neighbors, including Poland and Romania, which are both members of NATO.
“The president has been very explicit that part of the reason he’s sent forces forward to the Baltic States, to Poland and Romania and he’s supported the setup of these four battle groups southern countries of NATO’s eastern flank is because it is important, in this moment, to send a clear message to Russia that the United States and NATO will defend every inch of NATO territory,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Under Article 5 of the NATO alliance, an attack on one member requires a response from other member nations.
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He added that these steps are necessary “to deter any thinking that Putin might have about further Russian aggression into NATO.”
NATO has established four combat-ready units on its eastern flank and agreed Thursday to double that number to eight.
In a virtual address to NATO members on Thursday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia could attack other countries, including members of the 27-member NATO alliance.
“I am sure you already understand that Russia does not intend to stop in Ukraine. Does not intend and will not. It wants to go further,” Mr. Zelenskyy said.
“Against the eastern members of NATO. The Baltic states, Poland — that’s for sure. Will NATO then stop thinking about it, worrying about how Russia will react? Who can be sure of that? And do you have confidence that Article 5 can work?” he said.