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​NATO to promote ties with Ukraine, boost military presence in Eastern Europe

Published time: March 31, 2014 00:12
Edited time: March 31, 2014 15:06
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Reuters / Larry Downing)

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Reuters / Larry Downing)

NATO will strengthen relations with Ukraine and send more troops to Eastern Europe, the bloc’s outgoing chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said. The Ukrainian coup-imposed foreign minister is to fly to Brussels to take part in Ukraine-NATO talks.

Days after seconding US President Barack Obama’s statements on “ensuring a regular NATO presence” in “vulnerable” countries, NATO’s Secretary General Rasmussen spoke to the German media detailing the alliance’s plans in Eastern Europe.

Speaking to Welt am Sonntag, Rasmussen said that NATO’s expansion in the region has been “one of the greatest success stories of our time.” However, the alliance’s “task is not yet complete,” the NATO chief added.

NATO’s partnership with Ukraine has been getting “ever stronger,” Rasmussen noted, accusing Russia of violating the country’s right to “freely determine its own destiny,” as well as its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Georgia have already sought NATO membership and are already working on reforms to achieve it, he said.

“We are now considering revised operational plans, military manoeuvres and adequate troop reinforcements. We will, for example, relocate more aircrafts to the Baltic States,” Rasmussen told Focus magazine.

Image from nato.int

While this does not apply to Ukraine, which, according to the NATO chief, does not see membership a priority “in the foreseeable future,” NATO will help to “reform” Ukraine’s armed forces.

At the same time, NATO seeks “diplomatic solution to the crisis” in Ukraine, Rasmussen said, and will “keep the channels of communication with Moscow open.” This comes days after the alliance’s chief tweeted that NATO is to “review viability” of its relationship with Russia.

The Ukrainian coup-imposed government is set to discuss cooperation with NATO as early as next week, according to Kiev-picked acting foreign minister Andrey Deshchytsa.

Deshchytsa told journalists on Saturday he will take part in the extraordinary session of Ukraine-NATO Commission in Brussels on April 1-2, will “hold meetings and consultations” with US and UK foreign ministers, as well as attend the meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on April 2-3.

Rasmussen’s words were echoed by reports from Berlin, where military support to some eastern European members of NATO “in response to Russia’s seizure of Crimea” is being considered, Der Spiegel reported, quoting defense sources. Germany is considering whether to send up to six aircraft to patrol East European airspace, and the total number of NATO aircraft in the region will be at least “doubled,” the report said.

German Defense Ministry spokeswoman told Reuters that any such issue is to be decided by the politicians, but confirmed that “the [German] army could take part in flights to patrol airspace with AWACS machines over Romania and Poland, as well as training flights in the framework of a NATO air policing mission over Baltic States.”

But on Monday, Berlin distanced itself from Rasmussen’s “Drang nach Osten” rhetoric, saying that it does not see expanding NATO to the east as a priority.

“For us it is not in the list of things that are really necessary now,” Itar-Tass quoted Germany’s government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, as saying.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Sunday held an unexpected meeting on Ukraine in Paris. Kerry abruptly changed his travel route and decided to meet his Russian counterpart after speaking with Lavrov over the phone. The latest round of Russian-US diplomacy over Ukraine started with President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama discussing the situation in the Eastern European country by phone on Friday.