Russia accused NATO of reverting to the “verbal jousting” of the Cold War on Wednesday (April 2), by suspending cooperation over its annexation of Crimea. A spokesman said that neither the West, nor Russia would “win”.
NATO foreign ministers agreed on Tuesday to suspend all practical cooperation with Russia, draft measures to strengthen defences, and reassure nervous Eastern European countries in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War ended in 1991 [more].
Moscow did not announce any measures to retaliate, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern over the moves in a phone call with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.
“The language of the statements rather resembles the verbal jousting of the ‘Cold War’ era,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.
He noted that the last time NATO made such a decision, over Russia’s five-day war with Georgia in 2008, the alliance later resumed cooperation of its own accord.
“It is not hard to imagine who will gain from the suspension of cooperation between Russia and NATO on countering modern threats and challenges to international and European security, in particular in areas such as the fight against terrorism, piracy and natural and man-made disasters,” Lukashevich said.
“In any case, it will certainly not be Russia or NATO member states.”
In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Kerry’s phone call with Lavrov was brief, and that Kerry “conveyed the strong support he was hearing for the people of Ukraine – and the legitimate government of Ukraine – from his counterparts during his NATO meeting in Brussels.”
Harf also underscored US concerns about Russian troops along their shared border with Ukraine.
Calling the situation “incredibly concerning,” NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, also said on Wednesday that NATO had spotted signs of movement by a very small part of the Russian force overnight, but had no indication that this was part of a withdrawal to barracks.
Breedlove said Russia has massed all the forces it needs on Ukraine’s border if it were to decide to carry out any “incursion” into the country and “we think it could accomplish its objectives in between three and five days if directed to make the actions.”
NATO military chiefs are concerned that the Russian force on the Ukrainian border, which they estimate stands at 40,000 soldiers, could pose a threat to eastern and southern Ukraine.
Russian forces took control of Crimea, a strategic Ukrainian peninsula on the Black Sea, which then voted to unite with Russia, in a 16 March referendum seen as a sham in the West. Moscow formally annexed Crimea on 21 March (see background).
The suspension of NATO cooperation with Moscow means that Russia cannot participate in joint exercises, although the alliance says joint work in Afghanistan on training counter-narcotics personnel, maintaining Afghan air force helicopters, and providing a transit route out of the country could continue.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday NATO’s future relationship with Russia would depend, among other things, on whether Russia started withdrawing troops massed near Ukraine’s eastern border.
Crimea's Moscow-backed leaders declared a 96% vote in favour of quitting Ukraine, and annexation by Russia, in a referendum held on 16 March, which Western powers said was illegal and will bring immediate sanctions.
At their 20-21 March summit, EU leaders broadened the list of Ukrainians and Russians whose assets will be frozen, and freedom of movement in the EU restricted, in response to Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula, bringing the number to 33. A so-called "third stage" of sanctions is now also in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, US President Obama announced from Washington that the Americans had added 20 new officials to its sanctions list, including Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov.