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New NATO chief says East European member states should not be afraid of Russia

“We were a small country with 5 million people, and during the Cold War we always felt safe because we were always sure NATO would be there", the former Norwegian prime minister said

LONDON, October 5. /TASS/. East European countries that are NATO members should not be afraid of Russia, as NATO will guarantee their security, NATO’s new Secretary General, former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview published by The Financial Times on Saturday.

“We were a small country with 5 million people, and during the Cold War we always felt safe because we were always sure NATO would be there, even if we didn’t have permanent bases or soldiers,” the former Norwegian prime minister said.

“I understand what it is to be a small country bordering Russia,” said the former government head of Norway that has a 200-km border with Russia. “I understand very much the need in all our allied countries - but especially those that are bordering Russia, the eastern allies - to have a credible NATO. My task is to make sure all allies feel as safe as Norway did, and still does,” Stoltenberg said.

The new NATO chief made it clear that he is against denunciation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which limits the Alliance’s military presence in Eastern Europe. The NATO summit in Wales in September made a decision to hold rotation of the Alliance’s additional forces in Poland and Baltic countries without deploying permanent based in their territories.

“We found a way to increase the military presence in our eastern allies without being in violation with any international agreements,” said Mr. Stoltenberg. “They are very eager - as am I - to turn it into reality.”

The NATO secretary general declined comment on his stance regarding Ukraine’s possible membership in NATO. He said Ukraine must submit an official application for admission first.

“In 2008, it was a wish of Ukraine to become a member. Since then, they changed,” he said. “They are now in the process of changing back again. But first of all we have to await a final decision in Ukraine that they are requesting membership again. Until they have made a new decision, we have to wait,” the NATO chief said.

Stoltenberg refused to assess the prospects for the armed conflict settlement in the east of Ukraine. “We still have a ceasefire, but we have too many violations of the ceasefire,” he said.

Stoltenberg expressed the view that “There may come a time when the escalating violence makes it untenable,” FT writes. He added: “I don’t think it’s right to say we are there now.