Brussels, April 1: NATO foreign ministers have agreed to suspend “all practical civilian and military cooperation” with Russia over its annexation of Crimea, as the Western military alliance saw “no sign” that Russia is pulling its forces back from the border with Ukraine.
“We have decided to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia,” CNN quoted the foreign ministers from the 28-member alliance as saying in a joint statement.
Earlier, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there was no sign of Russia pulling its forces back from the border with Ukraine.
“Unfortunately I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops,” Rasmussen was quoted as saying Tuesday at the opening of a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.
“This is not what we’re seeing. And this massive military buildup can in no way contribute to a de-escalation of the situation.”
The foreign ministers condemned Russia’s “illegal” annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and praised the Ukrainian government’s “restraint”.
“Our political dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council can continue, as necessary, at the ambassadorial level and above, to allow us to exchange views, first and foremost on this crisis.”
They said they would review NATO’s relations with Russia at our next meeting in June. NATO and Russia have cooperated on counter-narcotics, counter-piracy and various counter-terrorism measures.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel Monday that he’d ordered a “partial withdrawal” of troops from his country’s border area with Ukraine.
Earlier, Ukraine condemned a visit to Crimea by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and a delegation of government ministers.
Tensions between Russia and the West rose after the overthrow of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, following months of street protests.
Later, Russia’s subsequent decision to annex Crimea triggered a crisis in relations.
Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine for Russia on March 16, in a referendum condemned as illegal by the UN General Assembly.
Concerns are high that Russia, which US officials last week said had about 40,000 troops near the frontier, might seek to enter Ukraine.