NATO 'hopes for the best but preparing for the worst' amid Russian threat of Ukraine invasion

NATO forces are training Ukrainian troops and providing equipment, Jens Stoltenberg said

NATO is "hoping for the best but preparing for the worst" ahead of a suspected Russian plan to invade Ukraine, the military alliance's general secretary has told ITV News.

Russian forces have been building on Ukraine's border for weeks and the Ukrainian government has said it believes Russia is planning an invasion.

The UK, EU and US have all sent stern warnings to Russia against such a move but have so far stopped short of offering to put boots on the ground.

NATO foreign ministers held virtual talks on Friday to discuss the Russian military build-up ahead of what has been described as an “absolutely critical” week for peace and security in Europe.

Speaking to ITV News, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said: "We will, of course, hope for the best and work hard to make all efforts to try to make progress on the political path, but we need to be prepared for the worst for Russia once again, using military force against Ukraine."

Jens Stoltenberg said NATO was the strongest it has been in years Credit: PA

He said Russia would face financial, economic and political sanction if it invaded Ukraine.

Mr Stoltenberg also said NATO forces were training Ukrainian troops and providing equipment.When pressed on whether nations looking to join NATO would feel safe if the alliance failed to protect Ukraine, Mr Stoltenberg said part of its strategy "is about making sure that there is no misunderstanding, no room for miscalculation when it comes to NATO's willingness and commitment to defend all allies."

He added that after Russia's aggression against Ukraine in 2014 NATO "implemented the biggest enforcement, our collective defence in a generation".

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visiting troops in Eastern Ukraine in December Credit: AP

Speaking about the current crisis in Kazakhstan which has seen Russian forces aid Kazak police in violently suppressing recent protests, Mr Stoltenberg said: "We are concerned and, and we regret very much the loss of lives."

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed the unrest on “terrorists” and has told government forces to "to shoot to kill without warning."He said further involvement of Russian troops in Kazakhstan was not a "direct threat against NATO" but it was "important for peace in general".

On wider defence, Mr Soltenberg agreed with recent comments by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss when she said next week would be defining for European security.

US and Russian officials are due to sit down for talks in Geneva on Sunday in an attempt to defuse the crisis in Ukraine before it escalates into a full-blown military conflict.

It will be followed on Wednesday by the first meeting in two years of the Nato-Russia council to be held in Brussels.

Mr Soltenberg said: "We are stronger than we have been for many, many years, uh, with more forces, higher readiness, more defence investments, and not least UK is paying a key part."