NATO condemns ‘propaganda’ after Russia cries foul

Last modified: 4/4/2014 12:05:03 AM
NATO yesterday accused Russia of spreading “propaganda” after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the U.S.-led alliance broke a commitment to limit its forces in eastern European countries.

Russia, not NATO, is trampling on pledges made in the 1990s by wresting control of Crimea and massing troops near Ukraine’s borders, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels.

“This is just another piece of Russian propaganda and disinformation,” Rasmussen said. “Russia is violating every principle and international commitment it has made, first and foremost the commitment not to invade other countries.”

As the rhetoric escalated between the Kremlin and the trans-Atlantic alliance, Russia sought to intensify the economic squeeze by announcing it will charge Ukraine an extra 26 percent for natural gas. The deployment of as many as 40,000 Russian soldiers on Ukraine’s eastern border is fueling concern the Kremlin may invade after its annexation of Crimea.

In response to Russia’s seizure of Crimea, NATO has stepped up an air-policing mission over the Baltic states and dispatched AWACS surveillance planes over Poland and Romania.

The U.S. sent more F-16 fighter jets to Poland and joined Romania and Bulgaria in naval exercises in the Black Sea.

Earlier yesterday in Moscow, Lavrov said NATO breached the principles of a 1997 accord that established formal ties between the former Cold War adversaries. At the time, NATO vowed to defend itself by “reinforcement” and with no new “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.”

Rasmussen called Lavrov’s view a “baseless interpretation” of the 1997 document. The text also tied NATO’s commitment to “the current and foreseeable security environment,” something altered by Russia’s attack on Georgia in 2008 and the takeover of Crimea last month.

“In the same document, Russia pledged to respect the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of other states and refrain from the threat or use of force,” Rasmussen said. “And that’s exactly what Russia is not doing.”

Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas, speaking alongside Rasmussen after the two met at allied headquarters, repeated his call for NATO “boots on the ground” in his country as a “clear presence indicator.”

Ukraine acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said on state- run TV channel UT-1 that Russian aggression is pushing Ukraine toward affiliation with NATO. He said he doesn’t “rule out” joining NATO if Russia continues to act in the same way. The border situation remains “tense,” he said, calling Russian pledges to pull back troops “a lie.”

Russia’s Crimea grab has refocused the alliance on its Cold War-era mission of protecting its territory, which since 1999 includes former Soviet satellite states. Four NATO members – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania - border Ukraine. Five also border Russia – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Poland.

The announcement of a jump in Ukraine’s energy costs follows a 44 percent increase this month after a discount deal expired. Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych won a lower price at the end of last year as he grappled with protests after ditching an association agreement with the European Union, on top of a previous discount in April 2010.

Gazprom said yesterday that state-owned Naftogaz Ukrainy owes more than $2.2 billion for gas and must take steps immediately to repay its debt while adding more fuel to storage to ensure uninterrupted transit to Europe.

The moves raise the prospect that state-run Gazprom may threaten to halt sales to Ukraine. European shipments were disrupted at least twice since 2006 when Russia cut Ukraine’s supplies during price disputes.

Ukraine relies on Gazprom for half its gas, while carrying about 15 percent of Europe’s demand through its pipelines from Russia, making it a linchpin in the continent’s energy security.

Ukraine is “ready” to borrow $2 billion from Russia to pay for gas, Energy Minister Yuri Prodan told reporters in Kiev.

Amid the exchanges between NATO and Moscow, Russia’s foreign ministry condemned comments by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in which he drew parallels between annexation of Crimea and the Nazis’ pre-war seizure of Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia.




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