World Bulletin/News Desk
Russia has recalled its top military representative to NATO for consultations, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday, widening the rift between Moscow and the Western alliance over Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
Russia's action last month has caused the deepest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War, leading the West to impose sanctions and stirring fears that President Vladimir Putin has territorial designs beyond Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula with its Russian-majority population.
The recall to Moscow of General Valery Yevnevich, a typical form of diplomatic protest, follows a decision by NATO this week to suspend cooperation with Russia in response to its occupation of kraine's Crimea Peninsula.
"We don't see an opportunity to continue military cooperation as usual with NATO," RIA news agency quoted Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov as saying. "We have decided to recall the chief Russian military representative at NATO ... to Moscow for consultations."
NATO simply said it took note of the Russian decision.
That drew a strong reaction from NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who accused Russia of "violating every principle and international commitment it has made, first and foremost the commitment not to invade other countries".
Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas said after talks with Rasmussen in Brussels that allies had accepted Estonia's offer of its Amari air base as a second location for NATO fighter planes to patrol the air space over the three Baltic states. The fighters have until now been based in Lithuania.
NATO has ordered military planners to draft measures to reassure nervous Eastern European countries - which were under Moscow's domination until the end of the Cold War more than two decades ago - but stopped short of calls by Poland to base more forces there.
DIFFERENCES OVER 1997 TREATY
"We have addressed questions to the north Atlantic military alliance. We are not only expecting answers, but answers that will be based fully on respect for the rules we agreed on," Lavrov told reporters at a briefing with his Kazakh counterpart.
Rasmussen said he had not received any questions from Russia and said Russian "accusations" were "just propaganda and disinformation."
Foreign ministers from the 28-nation, U.S.-led NATO met this week to discuss responses to Russia's Crimea takeover, including sending NATO soldiers and equipment to allies in eastern Europe, holding more exercises, ensuring NATO's rapid-reaction force could deploy more quickly, and reviewing NATO's military plans.
Military planners have been asked to come back with detailed proposals by April 15.
Rasmussen said what NATO was doing was in line with the 1997 agreement with Russia in which NATO agreed to defend eastern European members through reinforcements rather than by permanently basing substantial additional combat forces there.
"In the same document, Russia pledged to respect territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of other states and refrain from the threat or use of force, and that is exactly what Russia is not doing," he said.
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 force.
NATO military chiefs are concerned that an estimated 40,000 Russian forces near the Ukrainian border may signal plans by Putin to move beyond Crimea into eastern and southern Ukraine, which also have significant Russian-speaking populations.
Russian forces seized Crimea after mass protests toppled Ukraine's pro-Russian president. Moscow denounced this as a coup driven by right-wing extremists and said it reserved the right to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine, but denied having any intention to move into other areas of the ex-Soviet republic.
Lavrov responded to criticism over the size of the force along Russia's border with Ukraine by saying Moscow had the right to move troops on its territory and they would return to their permanent bases after military exercises.
Meanwhile, NATO's decision to suspend cooperation with Russia will affect their cooperation in countering the flow of Afghan opium and keeping Afghan military helicopters flying, a NATO official said on Wednesday.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Tuesday that the alliance was suspending military and civilian cooperation with Moscow after its forces occupied Ukraine's Crimea region.
Rasmussen said then that 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.
However, a senior alliance official said on Wednesday that the counter-narcotics and helicopter programmes would in fact be affected.
NATO and Russia jointly ran a counter-narcotics training programme for officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, designed to counter the flow of drugs from Afghanistan, and a "helicopter maintenance trust fund" to provide technical training and spare parts for Afghan air force helicopters.
Counter-narcotics officials currently taking courses would complete their training but there would be no more courses jointly organised by NATO and Russia for now, the senior NATO official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Russia accused NATO on Wednesday of reverting to the "verbal jousting" of the Cold War by suspending cooperation.
NATO-Russian cooperation through the helicopter maintenance trust fund would also be halted for now, the official said.
The fund pays for Afghan air force technicians to be trained in Russia to work on Afghanistan's Russian-made helicopters as well as paying for spare parts.
"We will again look at alternatives for how we can provide training and more spare parts for them without doing it ... in cooperation with Russia," the official said.
Cooperation will remain suspended until Russia complies with its international obligations over Ukraine, he said.
Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Ershad Ahmadi, in Brussels for talks with NATO on Wednesday, said the Kabul government had urged Russia and NATO to "decouple" their dispute over Ukraine from their cooperation over Afghanistan.Last Mod: 03 Nisan 2014, 23:20