Tuesday

13th Apr 2021

Nato and Russia trade accusations

  • USS Donald Cook: US said it would have been within its rights to shoot down the Russian jets (Photo: navy.mil)

Renewed Nato-Russia talks ended in “profound disagreement” on Wednesday (20 April) over Ukraine and over Russia’s harassment of Nato assets.

“Nato and Russia have profound and persistent disagreements. Today’s meeting did not change that,” the Nato head, Jens Stoltenberg, told press in Brussels after a meeting of the Nato-Russia Council.

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  • Stoltenberg with media in Brussels on Wednesday (Photo: nato.int)

“We disagree on the facts, on the narrative and the responsibilities in and around Ukraine,” he added.

“Russia tries to portray this as a civil war. This is Russia destabilising eastern Ukraine, providing support for the separatists, munitions, funding, equipment and also command and control.”

The council, which brings together Nato states’ ambassadors with Russia’s envoy to the alliance, also discussed military manoeuvres and Afghanistan.

The talks came after unarmed Russian jets, last week, simulated attacks on a US warship, the USS Donald Cook, over a three-day period in international waters in the Baltic Sea.

The incident was one in a series of similar Russian actions over the past 18 months.

The harassment campaign comes amid an increase in snap drills in Russia’s Western Military District - more than 800 in the past year alone.

Stoltenberg urged Russia to be more transparent on its exercises and to stop the Nato flybys to avoid an accidental exchange of fire.

He said that Russia’s actions and its “strong rhetoric” are a “dangerous combination.”

Russian rebuke

Leaving the council meeting, Russia’s envoy to Nato, Alexander Grushko, complained about Nato military instructors in Ukraine.

“If Nato wants to contribute to the resolution [of the crisis] … this military activity must end,” he said.

He said Russia took action against the USS Donald Cook because its position near the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad amounted to “military pressure.”

He said “serious people understand that we will take all the necessary precautions which should compensate for the attempt to use military force.”

Grushko also said that Nato and Russia had a “very good common understanding” on the need to support Afghanistan’s security forces and its economy.

He said they agreed on the “increasing danger of Daesh infiltration,” referring to Islamic State, the Syria-based jihadist group.

Sanctions

The last time the Nato-Russia Council met was in June 2014, shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its intervention in east Ukraine.

Nato curtailed practical cooperation amid broader EU and US sanctions. The EU’s economic sanctions on Russia are to expire in July unless they are renewed by consensus.

Stoltenberg said on Wednesday the Nato-Russia Council meeting “does not mean that we are back to business as usual.”

“There can be no return to practical cooperation until Russia returns to the respect of international law. But we will keep channels of communication open,” he said.

He said the recent flare up in ceasefire violations in east Ukraine were “disturbing.” He also said that it was Russia’s “special responsibility” to prevent escalation.

Nato states will at a summit in Warsaw in July detail plans to deploy a Russia-deterrent force in the Baltic and Black Sea regions.

Time to talk

The Polish defence minister, Antoni Macierewicz, told the Rzeczpospolita daily on Wednesday: “So far, all Russian behaviour attests to systematic preparation for aggressive action.”

“It's time to talk about it openly.”

Speaking at the Globsec conference in Bratislava last weekend, the Czech defence minister and the Romanian foreign minister aired similar concerns.

“We can by no means rule out Russian intervention in some Nato or EU member states by employing some hybrid warfare techniques,” the Czech Republic's Martin Stropnicky said, referring to covert warfare using paramilitary forces and special forces without national insignia.

“Russia possesses the military intelligence and propaganda capabilities to destabilise our allies in the Baltic region,” he said.

Russia's EU neighbours boost arms spending

Fear of Russia saw easterly EU states post some of the sharpest increases in arms spending in the world last year, according to Swedish think tank Sipri.

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