Tuesday

24th Jan 2017

Germany ready to reinforce Nato-Russia borders

  • Nato paratrooper takes part in military drill in Poland late last year (Photo: mon.gov.pl)

Germany has said its air force is ready to increase security on Nato’s border with Russia, despite Moscow’s promise not to escalate the crisis in Ukraine.

A German defence ministry spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency on Sunday (30 March) “the army could take part in flights to patrol airspace with Awacs machines [surveillance planes] over Romania and Poland, as well as training flights in the framework of a Nato air policing mission over Baltic states”.

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The statement comes after Denmark and the US in recently sent more than a dozen extra F-16 fighter jets to the region.

It also comes after the Pentagon, on Friday, told Nato’s military chief, US general Philip Breedlove, to return from Washington to the Nato HQ in Brussels.

Its spokesman said the move “does not foreshadow imminent military action in Ukraine”. But he added that “lack of transparency” and “growing uncertainty” over Russia’s mobilisation of tens of thousands of troops on Ukrainian borders merits caution.

Russia has not explicitly threatened former Communist or former Soviet countries in the Nato alliance.

But Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s speech on 18 March, in which he promised to protect ethnic Russians abroad, has raised concerns he could stir up trouble in Russian minorities in Baltic states.

He said in a phone call to the White House on Friday that the Russian-occupied region of Transniestria, in EU-aspirant country Moldova, is also in his sights. “[He] pointed out that Transniestria is essentially experiencing a blockade, which significantly complicates the living conditions for the region’s residents, impeding their movement and normal trade and economic activities,” a Kremlin statement on the call said.

Russia-US diplomacy continued on Sunday when US secretary of state John Kerry held a snap meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Paris.

Lavrov told Russian TV ahead of the event that Ukraine should become a federation of autonomous regions, each of which is free to conduct its own “external economic and cultural connections with neighbouring countries”.

He added: “Given the proportion of native Russians [in Ukraine], we propose this and we are sure there is no other way [to solve the crisis].”

Kerry told press after the meeting: “It’s not up to us to make any decision or any agreement regarding federalisation. We talked about it. But it’s up to Ukrainians, and Ukrainians will decide their future for themselves.”

He noted that Russia has the legal right to amass forces near Ukraine because “the troops are in Russia on Russian soil”.

He also said, however: “The question is one of strategic appropriateness and whether it’s smart at this moment in time to have that number of troops massed on a border when you’re trying to send a message conceivably that you want to de-escalate and begin to move in the other direction.”

Lavrov in his TV address scoffed at EU and US blacklists of Russian MPs, officials, and military chiefs. “We find little joy in that, but there are no painful sensations. We have lived through tougher times,” he noted.

The EU has threatened to impose sanctions on Russian energy firms and banks if Putin invades Ukraine.

But for the time being it is business as usual, with Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman proceeding with his acquisition of German energy firm Dea in a deal worth €5.2 billion, and with Russia’s state-owned Gazprom continuing to swap assets with Wintershall, a subsidiary of German company Basf.

Trump pledges US-first foreign policy

Economic protectionism and war on Islamist terrorism will form the heart of US foreign policy, Trump has said. He did not rubbish Nato, but indicated interest in a new Russia alliance.

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