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U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to defend “every inch” of NATO territory ahead of a meeting in Brussels of defense ministers from the 30-member Western alliance on October 13 that will include closed-door discussions by its nuclear planning group.

Austin’s statement came following thinly veiled nuclear threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin amid setbacks by Russian forces on the battlefield in their nearly eight-month-long invasion of Ukraine.

“We are committed to defending every inch of NATO’s territory — if and when it comes to that,” Austin said.

Austin spoke shortly before attending a meeting by NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group, which is the alliance’s senior body on nuclear issues and handles policy associated with its nuclear forces.

On the sidelines of the Brussels meeting, a group of 13 NATO members and Finland, which is in the process of joining the alliance, has signed a letter of intent to procure air defense systems such as the Arrow 3 and Patriot.

The group that signed the letter of intent on October 13 in Brussels includes Germany, Britain, Slovakia, Norway, Latvia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Belgium, Czechia, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, and Slovenia.

Some NATO members have been looking to improve their air-defense systems in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine. Others need to replace or upgrade systems after giving weaponry to Ukraine.

On October 12, the Ukraine Defense Contact Group comprising some 50 countries announced at a meeting in Brussels the delivery of new air defenses and committed more military aid to Kyiv to protect against Russia’s indiscriminate missile attacks across the country.

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