CARDIFF, Wales, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- NATO is preparing for the start of an intense two-day Summit in Wales on Thursday that will "address current and future security challenges," including Russian military aggression and the rise of extremism in the Middle East and North Africa.
"This is a time of multiple crises on several fronts," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen remarked on Monday. "To the east, Russia is intervening overtly in Ukraine. To the south, we see growing instability, with fragile states, the rise of extremism, and sectarian strife."
Rasmussen added that he expects the gathering "to be a crucial summit in NATO's history."
As heads of state and officials from NATO's 28 member nations come together to tackle a weighty agenda, readiness will be a key focus.
"NATO's greatest responsibility," Rasmussen reminded, "remains to protect and defend our populations and our territories. We also need the capacity to manage crises. And to work with partners to help build stability. So," he continued, "at the Summit, we will ensure that the Alliance remains ready, able and willing to defend all Allies against any attack."
The Summit will seek to address five core issues, outlined by NATO in a Vine video posted to Twitter on Tuesday: "1. Crisis in Ukraine & our relationship with Russia; 2. Afghanistan's future; 3. Tackling new threats; 4. Strengthening support for our Armed Forces; 5. Strengthening partnerships."
According to a preliminary schedule, the Summit will open with a session on Afghanistan and NATO's support role following completion of its combat mission.
Then, a NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting will be held to examine "enhancing NATO-Ukraine cooperation." A day ahead of the meeting at a press conference in Estonia, U.S. President Barack Obama stated that "one of our goals at the Summit over the next several days is to once again project unity across NATO on behalf of Ukraine's efforts to maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity." Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been invited to participate in the meeting.
On Friday, NATO members are expected to discuss NATO's readiness "to respond to security risks in the east and to the south as well as future challenges," and the necessary defense investment to do so.
Simultaneous meetings will be held by NATO foreign and defense ministers. With 33 partner countries and international organizations also participating, NATO says it will be "one of the largest NATO has ever organized."