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NATO chief recommits to defending Eastern European, Baltic nations

BRUSSELS — A reinvigorated NATO flexed old Cold War muscles Tuesday as the Atlantic alliance's chief recommitted to defending Eastern European and Baltic nations rattled by Russia's military intervention in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.

At the opening of a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance has seen no signs of Russian troop withdrawals along the Ukraine border, as Moscow has claimed.

The alliance moved to suspend many military and civilian ties with Russia over its military incursion and annexation of Crimea, but it stopped short of ordering new troop deployments of its own, a move that could provoke a larger confrontation.

"NATO has consistently worked for closer cooperation and trust with Russia" for two decades, the alliance ministers said in a statement. "However, Russia has violated international law" and its agreements with NATO, they said. "It has gravely breached the trust upon which our cooperation must be based."

Ukraine is not a member of the alliance but cooperates with it, to Russia's frequent dismay. Ukraine's foreign minister reiterated Tuesday that his nation is not seeking NATO membership now but is exploring greater cooperation.

NATO foreign ministers agreed Tuesday to intensify the alliance's partnership with Ukraine and provide additional assets to Eastern European partners.

"Russia's aggression against Ukraine challenges our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace," Rasmussen said. "We are now considering all options to enhance our collective defense, including an update and further development of defense plans, enhanced exercises and also appropriate deployment."

The United States has joined Black Sea naval exercises, and NATO members have increased air patrols over the Baltic states and employed AWACS surveillance planes over Poland and Romania.

Eastern European leaders have expressed unhappiness with the pace at which NATO has sought to bulk up its presence on the front lines with Russia. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the results have been "unsatisfactory."

"We are gaining something step by step, but the pace of NATO increasing its military presence for sure could be faster," he said.

NATO, originally formed as a U.S.-backed bulwark against the Soviet Union, has expanded in the past 15 years to include many former Soviet satellite states, often over Russian complaints. NATO sometimes invites Russia to attend sessions, but that was not the case this time.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, center right, speaks with, from left, Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn, Netherlands’ Frans Timmermans and Norway’s Borge Brende on Tuesday.

Associated Press

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, center right, speaks with, from left, Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn, Netherlands’ Frans Timmermans and Norway’s Borge Brende on Tuesday.

Congress approves aid for Ukraine

Congress sent President Barack Obama a bill on Tuesday to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to cash-poor Ukraine and punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea. The House voted 378-34 for the bill, which would supplement sanctions the Obama administration has taken by freezing assets and revoking visas of Russian officials and their associates who are complicit in or responsible for significant corruption in Ukraine. The Senate approved its version of the legislation on a voice vote on Thursday.

Associated Press

NATO chief recommits to defending Eastern European, Baltic nations 04/01/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 1:22am]
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