Foreign ministers from the 28 members of the Western military alliance met in Brussels for the first time since Russia’s military occupation and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region triggered the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
They were discussing ways to boost NATO’s military presence in former communist central and eastern Europe to reassure allies rattled by Russia’s moves.
They will also step up cooperation with Ukraine and decide whether to cut the alliance’s relations with Moscow beyond the steps it has already taken, which include halting lower-level meetings with Russian counterparts.
Calling Russia’s actions unacceptable, NATO Chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “Through its actions, Russia has undermined the principles on which our partnership is built, and has breached its own international commitments. So we cannot go on doing business as usual.”
Russian President, Vladimir Putin told Germany’s Angela Merkel in a phone call on Monday that he had ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from the eastern Ukrainian border, the German chancellor’s spokesman said.
But Rasmussen said NATO saw no sign of this.
“Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops. This is not what we are seeing,” he told reporters.
As NATO ministers met, Russia warned Ukraine against integration with NATO, saying Kiev’s previous attempts to move closer to the defence alliance had had unwelcome consequences.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, has said that the country’s new pro-Western leadership is not seeking membership of NATO, but NATO is expected to step up cooperation with Ukraine’s armed forces by training officers, holding joint exercises and promoting reforms.
The United States and its allies have made clear they have no military plans to defend Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, but they have assured allies in eastern Europe, which joined NATO in the last 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that they will be protected.