NATO: Russia’s action is a ‘wake-up call’

The alliance says Russia’s annexation of Crimea is the ‘gravest’ threat to Europe since the World War

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NATO said on Wednesday that Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula is the “gravest” threat to Europe since the Cold War, making clear that the military alliance must refocus on risks closer to home after years of fighting in faraway war zones.

“This is a wake-up call,” NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, warning Moscow that it would face international isolation, with AP.

Although there had been crises in the Balkans in the 1990s and in Georgia in 2008, “this is the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War,” the alliance chief said in prepared remarks.

He lambasted Moscow's annexation of Crimea as illegal and illegitimate, and repeated NATO's decision to suspend a joint maritime escort with Russia for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons.

Rasmussen outlined military measures under preparation for NATO states, if needed, to respond to Russia. They include surveillance flights over Poland and Romania, and additional assets for an airspace protection mission over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Developments in Ukraine, he said, “are a stark reminder that security in Europe cannot be taken for granted. ... We need to take tough decisions in view of the long-term strategic impact of Russia's aggression on our own security.”

Ukraine’s security chief said on Wednesday that Kiev was developing a plan for withdrawing its soldiers and their families from Crimea following the Kremlin’s claim on the flashpoint peninsula.

“We are developing a plan that would enable us not only to withdraw servicemen, but also members of their families in Crimea, so that they could be quickly and efficiently moved to mainland Ukraine,” Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council chief Andriy Parubiy told a televised press conference.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was on Wednesday preparing to set off for Russia and the Ukraine to encourage a peaceful settlement of the crisis threatening conflict between them.

Ban will meet with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday and with Ukraine’s interim leaders President Olexsandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Kiev on Friday.

“The Secretary-General has consistently called for a solution that is guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter,” Ban’s office said, urging “all parties to resolve the current crisis peacefully.”

On the brink of conflict

Moscow and Kiev are on the brink of conflict following a breakdown in relations in the wake of last month’s overthrow of Ukraine’s former Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Ban was “calling for a de-escalation and restraint from all sides and he will continue to plead for that when he goes to Russia and Ukraine.”

“(Ban) wants to build a constructive dialogue ... between Moscow and Kiev aimed at agreeing on specific measures that will pave the way to a diplomatic solution,” Haq said.

“He believes that although matters have been difficult in recent days, the path towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis is still open,” added Haq.

Much of the international community, including the United States and the European Union, rejects the annexation of Crimea as illegal, but Moscow in turn refuse to recognize the Ukrainian government.

U.S. President Barack Obama has invited G7 leaders to meet in The Hague on Monday on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit to discuss Ukraine.

U.N. diplomats have been deployed to Ukraine by Ban since the start of the crisis, with envoy Robert Serry followed by deputy Jan Eliasson and UN Human Rights chief Ivan Simonovic.

None has been able to convince Moscow or Kiev to start a dialogue. Serry was forced to leave Crimea abruptly after threats from armed men, while Simonovic aborted a trip to the disputed region for logistical and security reasons.

Thirteen of the 15 members of the UN Security Council backed a U.S. draft resolution unequivocally condemning Crimea’s referendum last weekend on joining Russia. The resolution was vetoed by Moscow while China abstained.

[With AFP]

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