Nato to keep expanding, suspends Russia ties
Nato states have said the alliance will keep on expanding despite Russia’s protests, while freezing most co-operation with Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
“We reaffirm that, in accordance with our policy, the alliance’s door remains open to new members in the future,” foreign ministers from the 28 Nato countries said in a joint statement marking the anniversary of former enlargements in Brussels on Tuesday (1 April).
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They added in a second communique that “we have decided to suspend all practical civilian and military co-operation between Nato and Russia” because Russia “gravely breached the trust upon which our co-operation must be based” by invading Ukraine.
The partial suspension will allow for ad-hoc meetings with Russia’s Nato ambassador, however. The suspension will also be reviewed in June.
Outgoing Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen added in an op-ed published in several media the same day that “any European state in a position to further the principles of the alliance and to contribute to the security of the north Atlantic area can apply to join. We stand by that principle.”
He listed Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and the former Soviet republic of Georgia as countries which aspire to join.
He did not mention Ukraine. But the foreign ministers said: “Nato and Ukraine will intensify co-operation and promote defence reforms through capacity building and capability development programmes. Nato allies will also reinforce the Nato Liaison Office in Kiev with additional experts.”
The meeting comes as Russian troops continue to occupy Crimea and to mass on Ukraine’s eastern borders. Media reports on Monday indicated some Russian soldiers had started to pull back. But Rasmussen told press on Tuesday he could not confirm this.
The ministers’ meeting also comes ahead of a Nato summit in Cardiff, Wales, in September.
Nato at a previous summit in Bucharest in 2008 declined to offer a so-called Membership Action Plan to Georgia and Ukraine due to French and German concerns over Russia relations.
For some, such as former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, who recently spoke to EUobserver in Brussels, the move was a “huge mistake” which opened the door to Russia’s invasion of Georgia and now Ukraine.
For the Russian foreign ministry, which published a statement on Tuesday, the attempts to pull Ukraine closer to Nato caused "a freezing of Russian-Ukrainian political contacts, a headache between Nato and Russia and ... division in Ukrainian society".
Despite Nato's suspension of Russia ties, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland at a separate meeting in Weimar, Germany, on Monday said the EU should keep listening to Moscow.
"We propose EU-Russia talks with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia about the consequences of the EU association agreements," they said, referring to EU political and free trade pacts due to be finalised by June.
An EU diplomat noted the talks would take place at the level of senior officials and would cover technical questions on the compatibility of EU free trade arrangements with Russia’s Customs Union.
Marcin Wojciechowski, the Polish foreign minister’s spokesman, told EUobserver it would be an “over-interpretaion” to say the talks could see Russia veto further progress on EU ties.
Extra US troops in Romania
With Russian military drills in the Baltic region also alarming Nato’s eastern members, Tuesday’s Nato meeting confirmed its “cohesion and commitment to deterrence and collective defence against any threat of aggression to the alliance.”
Denmark and the US have already sent extra F16 fighter jets to the region, while Germany said it is ready to send Awacs surveillance planes.
The US is also planning to send 600 more troops and extra planes to Romania, which borders Moldova and its Russian-occupied breakaway region of Transniestria.
But for his part, Polish PM Donald Tusk told press in Warsaw on Tuesday the new deployment is taking too long.
"We are gaining something step by step, but the pace of Nato increasing its military presence for sure could be faster … This is an unsatisfactory result for us,” he noted, Reuters reports.