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15th Jul 2018

EU reacts to Russia PM's 'Cold War' speech

  • Medvedev in Munich on Saturday: "I am sometimes confused: is this 2016 or 1962?" (Photo: securityconference.de)

The EU’s top diplomat says there’s no new Cold War with Russia. France and Germany agree. But Lithuania and Poland are less sure.

“I have not seen a climate of Cold War in these last days,” Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign affairs chief, told journalists in Brussels on Monday (15 February).

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  • Mogherini in Brussels on Monday: "I have not seen a climate of Cold War in these last days" (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

She spoke after attending the Munich Security Conference, an annual meeting of European and US security chiefs which was first convened in 1963 at the height of the old east-west nuclear confrontation.

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev told the event on Saturday: “Speaking bluntly, we are rapidly rolling into a period of a new Cold War.

“Russia has been presented as well-nigh the biggest threat to Nato, or to Europe, America ... They show frightening films about Russians starting a nuclear war. I am sometimes confused: is this 2016 or 1962?”.

He told the Euronews broadcaster on Sunday: “I never said that a new Cold War has begun, but I said that Nato decisions bring a new Cold War nearer.”

Russia's 'new weapon'

Medvedev spoke after Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told the Munich conference: “Russia’s rhetoric, posture and exercises of its nuclear forces are aimed at intimidating its neighbours.

“Our response has to be firm. Our deterrence also has a nuclear component.”

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Munich: “We are certainly not in a Cold War … What Medvedev meant to say is that we need to avoid a new Cold War.”

French prime minister Manuel Valls, who met Medvedev in Munich, went further.

“I would like our economic relations to have a new boost. We used to hold regular inter-governmental meetings at the prime ministerial level, and I think they should be resumed,” he said.

“Let us resume our relations on the best terms and at the top level.”

But foreign ministers from former Communist and Soviet satellites arriving for a regular meeting at the EU capital on Monday hit a different note.

Poland’s Witold Waszczykowski urged Nato to post more troops on its “eastern flank” as a Russia deterrent.

“We’re calling for Nato to equalise the security status of its eastern flank so that Poland and the eastern flank has the same status as the rest of Europe. This status can only be strengthened if Nato allies station troops on Polish territory.”

Lithuania’s Linas Linkevicius said Medvedev was entitled to say whatever he liked.

“But my impression is that Russia isn’t in a Cold War as Medvdev says. It’s a hot war that’s taking place in Syria but also in Ukraine.”

He said Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria is designed to increase refugee flows to Europe: “This isn’t a partnership … Refugees are becoming another weapon in the hands of the aggressor. This is really alarming.”

Slovakia’s Miroslav Lajcak said his “impression” of Munich was that “we have difficult problems to solve” with Russia.

“So long as Russia sees the problems totally differently from us, I’m not sure [they] can be EU partners,” he said.

Belarus 'experiment'

Monday’s meeting saw ministers lift most sanctions on Belarus and call for pro-EU reforms in Moldova, where a mixture of anti-corruption and pro-Russia protesters are calling for early elections.

The Belarus sanctions are being lifted to help the regime forge a more independent foreign policy after it refused to endorse Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Poland’s Waszczykowski called it an “experiment” and said he'd visit Minsk in “the next few weeks” to see if it really wanted better EU ties.

EU neighbourhood commissioner Johannes Hahn said the EU might “strengthen economic ties” with Belarus in future if things go well.

Moldova's missing billion

The ministers’ statement on Moldova, agreed on Monday morning, says: “The [EU] Council reaffirms its commitment to strengthening ... political association and economic integration."

But it urges authorities to “prioritise reforms aimed at addressing the politicisation of state institutions [and] systemic corruption”.

Referring to a $1 billion state theft that triggered the protests, it says “the cases of fraud that affected its banking system in 2014 [should be] made subject to a thorough, impartial investigation, also with a view to recovering the diverted funds and to bringing those responsible to justice”.

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