US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at the NATO headquarters. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool
NATO has suspended all practical cooperation with Russia in
protest at its annexation of Crimea, and ordered military
planners to draft measures to strengthen its defences and
reassure nervous eastern European countries.
Foreign ministers from the 28-nation, U.S.-led alliance were
meeting for the first time since the Russian occupation of
Ukraine's Crimea region touched off the worst East-West
crisis since the Cold War.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia's
actions meant there could be no "business as usual".
"So today, we are suspending all practical cooperation with
Russia, military and civilian," he told a news conference.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said NATO's
future relationship with Russia would depend, among other
things, on whether Russia started withdrawing troops from the
Ministers also ordered military commanders to draw up plans
for reinforcing NATO's defences to shore up confidence among
the alliance's eastern European members, including former
Soviet republics in the Baltics, that NATO is ready to defend
The measures could include sending NATO soldiers and
equipment to eastern European allies, holding more exercises,
ensuring NATO's rapid reaction force could deploy more
quickly, and reviewing NATO's military plans. Military
planners will come back with detailed proposals within weeks,
a NATO official said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said NATO's preference was
for a de-escalation and diplomatic route out of the crisis.
"At the same time, it is important for everybody in the world
to understand the NATO alliance takes seriously this attempt
to change borders by use of force," he said.
Russia's announcement on Monday that it would move a
battalion back from close to the Ukrainian border was a small
but welcome gesture, he told a news conference.
"The question now is: Is there a way to build on that in
order to be able to find a way to move the masses of troops
back and truly de-escalate?" he said.
Rasmussen said earlier that NATO had seen no sign Russia was
withdrawing its troops from the Ukrainian border.
The United States and other NATO allies have already
responded to the crisis by offering more planes to take part
in regular NATO air patrols over the Baltic States, which
were once Soviet republics. The United States has beefed up a
previously planned training exercise with the Polish air
Germany had offered six Eurofighter jets for Baltic air
patrols and one command ship for a mine hunting unit in the
Baltic Sea, a NATO source told Reuters.
The suspension of NATO cooperation with Russia would mean
Russia could not participate in joint exercises such as one
planned for May on rescuing a stranded submarine, a NATO
However, Rasmussen said he expected Russia's cooperation with
NATO in Afghanistan - on training counter-narcotics
personnel, maintenance of Afghan air force helicopters and a
transit route out of the war-torn country - to continue.
Contacts between NATO and Russia at ambassadorial level or
higher can also go on, so the two sides can discuss ways out
of the crisis.
NATO agreed at a meeting with Ukraine's foreign minister to
step up cooperation with training and other programmes to
help modernise Ukraine's armed forces.
NATO will offer Ukraine more chances to take part in NATO
exercises, Rasmussen said.
Ukraine has given NATO members a wish-list of "technical
equipment" it needed for its armed forces but this did not
include weaponry, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Andrij
Deshchitsya told a news conference after meeting NATO
He said NATO members would send experts to Kiev next week to
see what Ukraine needed.
As NATO ministers convened, Russia warned Ukraine against
integration with NATO, saying Kiev's previous attempts to
move closer to the defence alliance had had unwelcome
Ukraine's new pro-Western leadership has said it is not
seeking membership of the Western alliance.
In another sign of NATO support, Romanian President Traian
Basescu said the United States had asked to boost the number
of troops and aircraft it has stationed at an air base in his
country, which has a border with Ukraine.
But Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Tuesday that
the pace at which NATO was increasing its military presence
in Poland was unsatisfactory.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who said earlier
he would be satisfied if NATO located two heavy brigades in
Poland, said on arrival at the NATO meeting that he would
welcome any NATO forces being stationed there.
Germany's Steinmeier said the basing of a significant NATO
force in Poland would not be completely in line with a 1997
treaty on NATO-Russian cooperation.