NATO has announced that it will suspend all “practical civilian and military cooperation” with Russia in protest at its annexation of Crimea. The alliance also ordered measures to strengthen defences to reassure nervous Eastern European countries.
The announcement came on Tuesday, as foreign ministers from the 28 nation US-led alliance met in Brussels.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia’s actions meant there could be no “business as usual”.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said NATO's future relationship with Russia would depend, among other things, on whether Russia started withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border.
On Tuesday, an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Russian troops equipped with tanks, other armoured vehicles and fixed and rotary wing aircraft remained positioned near the border with Ukraine, a NATO military official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.
The military official described the Russian buildup as “a complete combat force'' that was highly threatening to Ukraine.
In response, Ministers have ordered military commanders to draw up plans for reinforcing NATO's defences to shore up confidence among the alliance's Eastern European members, including former Soviet republics in the Baltics, that NATO is ready to defend them.
The measures could include sending NATO soldiers and equipment to Eastern European allies, holding more exercises, ensuring NATO's rapid-reaction force could deploy more quickly, and reviewing NATO's military plans. Military planners will come back with detailed proposals within weeks, a NATO official said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told a press conference that the US has already sent six F-15 fighters to perform air patrols over the Baltic, deployed a dozen F-16s to Poland and dispatched the USS Truxtun, a guided-missile destroyer, to the Black Sea.
“And more US support is on the way,” Kerry underscored.
On Monday, Russia's Defense Ministry said one battalion - about 500 troops - had been pulled back, but NATO's secretary general downplayed talk of a major withdrawal.
“This is not what we have seen,'' NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters. “And this massive military buildup can in no way contribute to a de-escalation of the situation - a de-escalation that we all want to see. So I continue to urge Russia to pull back its troops, live up to its international obligation and engage in a constructive dialogue with Ukraine.''
Despite annexing Crimea, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin officials have said that Russia has no intention of invading other areas of Ukraine.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu insisted Tuesday the Kremlin wants a “political settlement that would take interests and rights of the entire Ukrainian people into account.”
(FRANCE24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-02