RIGA (AFP) – NATO foreign ministers will meet on Tuesday to discuss ways to resist a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border, amid worries that the Kremlin is planning an invasion.

The long-planned meeting in Latvia’s capital Riga comes at a dangerous time on NATO’s eastern border, as members cope with a migration crisis that the West blames on Kremlin-backed Belarus.

Western countries, led by the United States, are concerned that Moscow is planning an incursion into Ukraine after accusing the Kremlin of massing forces near the border.

“There is no clarity regarding Russian objectives, but for the second time this year, there is an exceptional concentration of forces,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told AFP during a visit to alliance soldiers in Latvia.

Heavy armour, drones, electronic warfare equipment, and tens of thousands of combat-ready personnel are on display.”

Moscow, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backs rebels battling Kiev, has categorically rejected any plans for an invasion and blames NATO for inflaming tensions.

According to NATO officials, the alliance is still unsure of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions, but ministers will review contingency measures if Russia invades.

The US-led coalition wants to convince the Kremlin that there would be serious consequences if it threatens Ukraine, but it does not want to provoke Moscow into more action.

Officials anticipate discussions on increased military assistance for Ukraine, as well as perhaps increasing NATO soldiers placed along its eastern side.

They do, however, stress out that NATO candidate Ukraine, which will be represented at the two-day summit by its foreign minister, is not protected by the alliance’s collective defence treaty.

“We want to leave no doubt in people’s minds that there will be significant implications, strategic consequences for Russia, if it continues on the road we fear it is on,” a senior US official said.

“It’s a matter of identifying the proper signals and the correct deterrent stance that really results in a de-escalation rather than an escalation.”

US Vice President Joe Biden said on Friday that he planned to meet with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine in an effort to ease escalating tensions.

  • ‘Hybrid assault’ –

The rising tensions in Ukraine come as NATO members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia confront a new danger from the east, which will be high on the agenda in Riga.

They accuse Moscow’s ally Belarus of directing thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, to their borders in a “hybrid offensive” in retaliation for EU sanctions on Minsk.

The accusation is rejected by President Alexander Lukashenko.

NATO has declared “solidarity” with its eastern members, but has mainly remained on the sidelines while the threat level hovers just short of real aggression.

During a meeting with Stoltenberg last week, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda proposed expanding NATO troop numbers deployed on its eastern borders.

However, an effort to initiate emergency talks under Article 4 of the alliance’s founding treaty appears to have been halted for the time being.

On a combined visit to the Baltics on Sunday, Stoltenberg and EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen committed to strengthen collaboration in the face of such problems.

Border tensions have lessened marginally as some refugees return to Iraq, but Warsaw and Vilnius maintain that the issue is far from finished.

“There can be no doubt that Lukashenko’s regime and the forces that support it will continue to test the Western world’s unity and their ability to react,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said.

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