By Anne Gearan
April 2, 2014
A reinvigorated NATO flexed old Cold War muscles Tuesday as the Atlantic alliance’s chief recommitted to defending Eastern European and Baltic nations rattled by Russia’s military moves and its annexation of Crimea.
At the opening of a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance has seen no signs of Russian troop withdrawals along the Ukraine border, as Moscow has claimed. A senior U.S. State Department official had called Russia’s promised pullback a “gesture,” but a welcome one.
“We have all challenged the tactics of intimidation,” Secretary of State John Kerry said after meeting Tuesday with NATO members and Ukrainian envoys.
The alliance moved to suspend many military and civilian ties with Russia over its military incursion and annexation of Crimea, but it stopped short of ordering new troop deployments of its own, a move that could provoke a larger confrontation.
“NATO has consistently worked for closer cooperation and trust with Russia” for two decades, the alliance ministers said in a statement. “However, Russia has violated international law” and its agreements with NATO, they said. “It has gravely breached the trust upon which our cooperation must be based.”
Rasmussen did not rule out posting troops in nations at Russia’s front door in the future, something the alliance has largely refrained from doing. NATO could establish permanent bases in frontline allied nations, alliance officials said this week.
Ukraine is not a member of the alliance but cooperates with it, to Russia’s frequent dismay. Ukraine’s foreign minister reiterated Tuesday that his nation is not seeking NATO membership now but is exploring greater cooperation.
NATO foreign ministers agreed Tuesday to intensify the alliance’s partnership with Ukraine and provide additional assets to Eastern European partners.
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine challenges our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace,” Rasmussen said. “We are now considering all options to enhance our collective defense, including an update and further development of defense plans, enhanced exercises and also appropriate deployment.”
The United States has joined Black Sea naval exercises, and NATO members have increased air patrols over the Baltic states and employed AWACS surveillance planes over Poland and Romania.