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Ukraine-Russia crisis: What to know about rising fear of war ser

The Russia-Ukraine crisis entered another day that is expected to be packed with diplomatic efforts to prevent the simmering tensions from boiling over into war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is hosting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks in Kyiv while Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Argentinian counterpart Alberto Fernandez in Moscow.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile, voiced concerns that Russia continues to build up troop numbers along Ukraine’s borders, including in Belarus.

Here are things to know Thursday about the international tensions surrounding Ukraine, which has an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed along its borders.

NATO CHIEF: ‘SIGNIFICANT’ RUSSIAN TROOP BUILDUP IN BELARUS

Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters that Moscow has now deployed more troops and equipment to Belarus that at any time in the last 30 years.

Russia now has more than 100,000 troops stationed near Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, raising concern that Moscow might invade again, as it did in 2014. Russian officials deny that an invasion is planned.

Stoltenberg again called on Russia to “de-escalate,” and repeated warnings from the West that “any further Russian aggression would have severe consequences and carry a heavy price.”

The NATO chief said Russian forces in Belarus are likely to rise to 30,000 including special forces and supported by fighter jets and missiles.

The Saint-Symphorien cemetery is close by NATO’s military headquarters, called the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. It is invariably led by an American, ever since Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. Just outside its headquarters is a restaurant called “Chez L’Oncle Sam” or “At Uncle Sam” — well known for its burgers and Tex-Mex grills — and that’s how NATO feels to this day.

The EU has grown into a global economic powerhouse, but never developed security and defense clout to match.

“Often people would describe the EU as an economic giant, but also a political dwarf and a military worm. I know that is a cliche. But, like many cliches, it had a basic element of truth,” Borrell said.

It was painfully evident during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos declared it was “the hour of Europe,” yet it took U.S.-led NATO troops to make the difference.

To make matters worse, EU decision-making became more unwieldly as the bloc grew, with each individual nation able to threaten veto power on foreign policy and defense issues. This week, many in European capitals winced as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban went to visit Putin. He sought tighter relations through larger natural gas imports at a time when the rest of the EU wants to distance itself from Moscow.

Efforts to increase European defense spending or to integrate weapons systems have largely failed.

Here’s how NATO sums up the situation on its website: “The combined wealth of the non-US Allies, measured in GDP, exceeds that of the United States. However, non-US Allies together spend less than half of what the United States spends on defense.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in the Belarus capital, Minsk, on Thursday to monitor preparations for major Russia-Belarus war games that are expected to take place Feb. 10-20.

— By Lorne Cook in Brussels, and Dasha Litvinova in Moscow.


DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS TO DEFUSE CRISIS

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting his Ukrainian counterpart in Kyiv, saying he wants to play his part in establishing “an atmosphere of peace and trust in our region.”

Erdogan also underscored Turkey’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, calling the nation a “strategic partner and neighbor.”

“As a Black Sea nation, we invite all sides to exercise restraint and dialogue in order to bring peace to the region,” Erdogan said.

Meanwhile, Putin is meeting with Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez in Moscow and will speak by phone to French President Emmanuel Macron, who had a call Wednesday night with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Macron will speak to Putin, then Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, according to Macron’s office.

— By Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Angela Charlton in Paris.

“War, never again,” reads the visitors book of the Saint-Symphorien military cemetery south of Brussels, where some of the first and last casualties of World War I lie buried, German soldiers alongside former enemies. Bodies from the 1914-1918 war are dug up to this day in Flanders Fields, 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. Memorial sites and monuments to war dead are scattered around the continent.

After an equally brutal World War II left an estimated 36.5 million Europeans dead, it was clear things had to drastically change.

Germany, which had set off both global conflicts, and neighboring France needed to be knitted together in a tight economic embrace that would make war practically impossible.

The alliance that eventually grew to become the EU began with a trading community focused on steel, coal and farming — not soldiers and bombs. An attempt at a European Defense Community and a potential European army was politically stillborn and never got past French ratification in 1954.

After the United States was decisive in winning both world wars and then developed a nuclear arsenal to face the Soviet Union, relying on Washington became a political no-brainer for Europe.

WHY THAT’S A PROBLEM

Within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, set up in 1949, Europeans could shelter comfortably under U.S. military power, which grew significantly over the decades while spending by many of its Western allies lagged.

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