TIRANA, Albania (AP) — NATO's Parliamentary Assembly urged member nations Monday to stand up to Russia's military assertiveness as a senior official vowed to strengthen forces along the alliance's eastern borders.
A unanimously approved declaration called on alliance members "to provide reassurance to those allies who feel their security is under threat, focusing on the eastern and southern flanks of the alliance."
The declaration sought to strengthen conventional and nuclear deterrence measures, heighten NATO military preparedness, and boost cooperation with non-NATO members Sweden and Finland. All are expected objectives of the alliance's July 8-9 summit in Warsaw, where Polish leaders already have appealed for stronger NATO deployments in the east.
The assembly president, American lawmaker Michael R. Turner, declared that "Russia's aggressiveness comes with a price" as he appealed to European partners to boost defense spending.
"Moscow has decided that its own interests are better served if it works against us rather than with us," said Turner, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio. "The challenge from Russia is real and serious."
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow said NATO would maintain dialogue with Russia "but there can be no return to 'business as usual' ... until Russia once again demonstrates respect for international law."
As Vershbow spoke his superior, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, traveled to Warsaw to lay groundwork for two days of talks on the July summit.
Vershbow said NATO members would seek to strengthen the alliance's defense capabilities and logistical support for other allies bordering Russia. He urged members to follow through on previous commitments to increase defense spending to at least 2 percent of national economic output.
"I expect leaders at Warsaw to agree on an enhanced forward presence in the east of the alliance," he said. Such increased military forces would ensure, he said, "that an attack on any ally will be swiftly met by the forces from across the alliance, from both sides of the Atlantic."
Monday's declaration noted, however, that NATO nations also should "continue to explore ways to reduce tensions with Russia and avoid miscalculations and incidents."
About 250 lawmakers from 28 NATO member countries and partners gathered in the Albanian capital, Tirana, amid tight security for the three-day assembly, which concluded Monday.
The lawmakers hailed Montenegro's recent invitation to become a full member and said they hoped eventually to offer membership to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Russian neighbor Georgia.
Associated Press reporter Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this story.