Nato to strengthen military exercises after Russia 'aggression'
By Honor Mahony
Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said the transatlantic military alliance will draw up new defence plans following Russia's "aggression" in Ukraine.
In an interview with French regional newspaper Midi Libre, published Sunday (4 August), he said that “Russia's aggression was a warning and created a new security situation in Europe”.
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"We will strengthen military exercises and prepare new defence plans," he said, reports AFP.
With an eye on what is turning out to be a key Nato meeting in Wales at the beginning of September, Rasmussen drew attention to the defence-spending discrepancies between Russia and Nato members.
He noted that while Russia had increased its defence spending by 50 percent over the past five years, Nato countries have, on average, reduced theirs by 20 percent.
"We must reverse this trend," he said.
He said that he regretted that Russia considered Nato a foe but "we have to adapt to this new situation".
Rasmussen's comments came on the back of a letter from British leader David Cameron to Nato leaders calling on them to "make clear to Russia that neither Nato nor its members will be intimidated”.
The Alliance's member states should “strengthen (their) ability to respond quickly to any threat" while the 4-5 September meeting should agree “a new exercise schedule adapted to the new security environment”.
The statements come after a raft of EU sanctions - the latest round hitting Putin's inner circle - have failed to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine where Russia-backed separatists are fighting for control in eastern parts of the country.
The scale of the crisis increased after the Malaysia airplane was shot down on 17 July over separatist-held territory in Ukraine killing all passengers on board. Russia's failure to help secure the crashsite afterwards hardened attitudes further.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, used a speech on 1 August commemorating the outbreak of WW1 to remind Europe that "peace is fragile".
“Humankind should grasp one truth: violence generates violence."
At the same time the Russian defence ministry announced military exercises in all defence districts and that it would be calling up reserve forces in all areas. It later said that this had been planned for months and was not a reaction to events in Ukraine.
On Monday (4 August) Radio Free Europe reported that Russian military officials said they have launched four days of military exercises in central and western regions of Russia.
Interfax quoted Russian Air Force spokesman Igor Klimov as saying that exercises include the use of 100 military aircraft.
In comments before the weekend, Germany's chief of relations with Russia Gernot Erler warned against the crisis increasing to an extent that there is "direct" military intervention by Russia.
He said Putin is "under very strong pressure not to let Russian-speaking inhabitants of east Ukraine – who he has taken under protection – in the lurch.”
If the separatists were facing a defeat, no one could exclude an intervention by Moscow, he told the Neue Osnabrueker newspaper. “It would be a terrible escalation if it came to a direct intervention (by Moscow),” he said.