Nato chief describes 'outrageous' Russia as threat to Europe
Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said Russia’s partition of Ukraine has created “a completely new security situation in Europe.”
“What we have seen in Ukraine is outrageous”, he told a regular press briefing in Brussels on Monday (19 May).
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“For more than 20 years we have based our defence planning on the assumption that there would be no imminent threat from Russia, but now we have seen the Russian doctrine that Russia reserves the right to intervene in other countries to protect the interests of Russian communities and we have seen in Crimea and in Ukraine that this doctrine is not just words - it can easily be turned into action.”
“We have seen that in the Russian military doctrine Nato is considered as an adversary, and I think we should take that seriously.”
He accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin of lying.
Referring to a Kremlin statement earlier in the day that Russia had pulled back forces, Fogh Rasmussen said: “Now, I think, it’s the third Putin statement on withdrawal of Russia troops, but so far we haven’t seen any withdrawal at all. There’s absolutely no reason why the Russians should mass a military force of this scale along Ukraine’s borders.”
He noted: “there is a clear risk instability in [Ukraine’s] eastern regions will make it difficult to conduct elections in that part of the country". He added: “there’s no doubt Russia is deeply involved in the destabilisation of the situation in eastern Ukraine”.
He predicted more trouble in the run-up to EU signatures of free trade pacts with Georgia and Moldova in June.
“It’s my assessment that we will see the same [Russian pressure] as Moldova and Georgia are going to finalise these agreements,” he said.
“Based on previous experience, that might include gas prices, gas supply, trade restrictions and also attempts to further destabilise the situation in these countries through exploiting the protracted conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transniestria.”
Earlier on Monday, while in Slovakia, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also said the Ukraine crisis is a pivotal moment.
“These relations require essential rethinking and with both our partners in the European Union and with Nato member states we are trying to conduct an analysis in order to better understand where we are,” he noted.
Fogh Rasmussen indicated Nato will redraft its defence plans and consider deploying more assets in eastern Europe at its summit in September.
But the two sides are still talking, with a meeting of Nato officials and Russian diplomats foreseen next week.
Fogh Rasmussen also underlined “there is no military solution” to the Ukraine crisis and said there is no question of redeploying nuclear weapons on Russia’s borders, in line with a Nato-Russia accord from 1997. “At this stage, I do not foresee any Nato request to change the content of the Nato-Russia founding act," he noted.
His remarks on Russia’s role in the "destabilisation" of eastern Ukraine comes amid EU concern Russia will try to derail Ukraine presidential elections on 25 May.
The EU sees the vote as crucial for the future of the country.
It has warned Russia it will trigger economic sanctions against its banks, high-tech industries, and defence sector if it sabotages the event. But some EU diplomats fear the threat is enough. “We don’t know what might happen in Ukraine, or in Kiev itself, during the elections. There could be provocations, mass protests, or even a bomb placed somewhere in the crowds,” one contact said.
EU leaders will hold an informal dinner in Brussels on 27 May in their first opportunity for a joint reaction.
But the slump in relations is already causing ripples on the economic front.
On Monday, Johannes Teyssen, the CEO of E.ON, Germany’s largest energy firm, said he will not go to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, a flagship business conference in Russia, this week.
He blamed agenda problems.
But E.ON joins a list of 11 companies who are no longer sending top delegates to St. Petersburg: Airbus Group; Aloca; Bain & Company; Citigroup; ConocoPhillips; Eni; International Paper Company; Morgan Stanley; Pepsi; Siemens; and Visa.
“Like many of the American CEOs and industry leaders, we were approached by the [US] state department and talked to about many of the concerns that they had … So based on some of those concerns and comments I made a decision to not attend this year,” Ryan Lance, the CEO of US energy firm Conoco, told Reuters.