NATO agreed at emergency talks on Thursday to further beef up its land, sea, and air forces on its eastern flank near Ukraine and Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered a military offensive in Ukraine. "We are deploying additional defensive land and air forces to the eastern part of the alliance, as well as additional maritime assets," NATO ambassadors said in a statement. "We have increased the readiness of our forces to respond to all contingencies." Countries closest to the conflict—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland — requested rare consultations under Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty, which can be launched when "the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the (NATO) parties is threatened," the AP reports.
While some of NATO’s 30 member countries are supplying arms, ammunition, and other equipment to Ukraine, NATO as an organization isn’t. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, however, said in a joint-statement: "We would need to urgently provide Ukrainian people with weapons, ammunition and any other kind of military support to defend itself as well as economic, financial and political assistance and support, humanitarian aid." "The most effective response to Russia’s aggression is unity,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted. "Russia’s widespread aggression is a threat to the entire world and to all NATO countries." Kallas called for measures "for ensuring the defense of NATO Allies."
NATO began beefing up its defenses in northeastern Europe after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. It has around 5,000 troops and equipment stationed there, but those forces have been supplemented with troops and equipment from several countries in recent months. When he announced military action, Vladimir Putin said any attempt to interfere would “lead to consequences you have never seen in history." In what the AP describes as a " stark reminder of Russia’s nuclear power," the Russian leader warned that "no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor." (Read more Ukraine stories.)