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23rd Feb 2020

Ukraine crisis creates bad will between Nato and Russia

  • Lavrov (l) was visibly annoyed by Rasmussen's criticism (Photo: securityconference.de)

The Ukraine crisis is creating new mistrust between Nato and Russia.

Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen and US secretary of state John Kerry criticised Russia’s conduct in Ukraine and in the former Soviet region in general at a security congress in Munich on Saturday (1 February).

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Rasmussen linked Russia’s recent deployment of missiles and fighter jets in Belarus and Kaliningrad to its attempt to draw a line around its former domain.

“I become concerned when I hear of the deployment of offensive, not defensive, but offensive weapons systems … None of us wants a return to the dividing lines and the hostility of the past,” he said.

“Ukraine must have the freedom to choose its own path without external pressure,” he added.

Speaking next to Rasmussen, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov complained of EU and US “incitement of increasingly violent street protests” in Kiev.

He said Russia’s missile deployment is designed to counter the US’ anti-ballistic missile system in the region.

Visibly annoyed, he made a veiled threat against the TV station, Euronews, over its reporting on Ukraine.

Noting that it recently cited leaked information that Ukrainian activist Dmytro Bulatov was “tortured by Russians,” he said: "I would be very cautious about leakages, even from such a respected channel as Euronews, where Russia has 17 percent of the shares."

Kerry, speaking in a separate panel in Munich, also challenged Lavrov.

He said the US and the EU have a duty to support the Ukrainian opposition in its struggle against “corrupt, oligarchic interests” and foreign “coercion.”

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine. The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight,” he said.

He added that the creation of an EU-US free trade zone will give the West more power to defend its values overseas.

“If we are ambitious enough, TTIP [the free trade pact] will do for our shared prosperity what Nato has done for our shared security … Our shared prosperity and security are indivisble,” he said.

“Don’t underestimate for a second the difference this would make for courageous people like those in Ukraine.”

For his part, EU Council chairman Herman Van Rompuy defended the EU’s role in the crisis.

“Some people think Europeans are naive,” he said, referring to EU reliance on soft power.

“But … [our] power of attraction brought down the Berlin Wall. Our biggest carrot is a way of life. Our biggest stick: a closed door.”

The Nato chief and the Russian minister underlined that a military clash over Ukraine is out of the question.

Rasmussen said: “I don’t see a role for Nato in Ukraine. It’s for the Ukrainian people to decide.”

Lavrov noted that "military confrontation in Europe has become unthinkable.”

Some Munich delegates, such as one senior French diplomat, said Rasmussen was needlessly provocative.

But even Russia’s biggest friend in Europe, Germany, voiced concern over the trend in relations.

“If we were to think of a European foreign policy without or against Russia then it wouldn’t have a future. But I want to make it clear it’s also up to Moscow to see and define what they have in common with Europe and to state this commitment publicly,” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

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