Russia is 'a power in decline' but still poses a military threat, NATO chief says

  • Ukrainian and Western officials fear a Russian land invasion of its western neighbor, whose Crimean peninsula Russia annexed in 2014.
  • Moscow has rejected the notion, pointing the finger instead at what it says is aggression from Ukraine.

Russia may be in economic decline, but it still poses a formidable military threat — particularly in the realm of advanced weaponry and cyberwarfare, NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

"Russia is a power in decline, meaning the economic importance of Russia, the GDP is not keeping track with many other countries in the world. But even an economy in decline and a power in economic decline can be a threat and a challenge," the NATO chief told CNBC's Hadley Gamble.

"Not least because Russia has nuclear weapons. And Russia is investing in new modern military capabilities, deploying new hypersonic missiles, and also new nuclear-capable missiles deployed here in Europe. And therefore we need to take that very seriously," Stoltenberg said.

The comments come amid heightened tensions and a volley of verbal threats between Russia and the West, against the backdrop of a massive Russian troop buildup along the border of Ukraine.

Ukrainian and Western officials fear a Russian land invasion of its western neighbor, whose Crimean peninsula Russia annexed in 2014. Moscow has rejected the notion, pointing the finger instead at what it says is aggression from Ukraine.

Western officials have warned of "severe consequences" for Russia in the event of a conflict, but have not specified what those might be beyond potential sanctions. Some analysts say this signals a lack of decisiveness or unified approach among Western leaders as to how to deal with Russia.

The situation is complicated by current energy market dynamics.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNBC on Thursday: "Putin has not decided yet whether to do a military operation … But if he decides to do so, things will happen in the blink of an eye."

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