NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia on Tuesday in protest at its annexation of Crimea and ordered military planners to draft measures to strengthen its defences and reassure nervous eastern European countries.
In a joint statement following a meeting about Ukraine in Brussels, the ministers said NATO\’s political dialogue with Russia can continue as necessary. They said they do not recognize Russia\’s attempt to annex Ukraine\’s Crimean peninsula, calling it "illegal and illegitimate." They urged Russia to take immediate steps to return to compliance with international law.
NATO and Ukraine have also agreed to intensify cooperation and promote defense reforms, according to a NATO statement
The announcement came on the same day Russia warned Ukraine against aligning with NATO, saying Kyiv\’s previous attempts to move closer to the defense alliance had negative consequences.
"[Past attempts] led to a freezing of Russian-Ukrainian political contacts, a headache between NATO and Russia and…to a division in Ukrainian society," the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia\’s annexation of Ukraine\’s Crimea region was the gravest threat to European security for a generation.
There could be no "business as usual", he added.
He had earlier categorically denied reports that Russia was pulling its forces back from its border with Ukraine.
Russia\’s Foreign Ministry complained on Tuesday that that the U.S. bank JP Morgan had blocked a payment from its embassy in Kazakhstan to Sogaz, an insurance agency, "under the pretext of anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the United States."
Calling the action "unacceptable, illegal and absurd," the foreign ministry warned moves against a Russian diplomatic mission would affect the work of the U.S. embassy and consulate in Russia.
Russia is also stepping up economic pressure on Kyiv. The Russian natural gas producer, Gazprom, announced a more than 40 percent increase in the price of gas for Ukraine. However, the financial blow to Kyiv is expected to be offset by a new loan package from the International Monetary Fund.
NATO\’s secretary-general said Tuesday that he\’d seen no evidence that Russia is withdrawing its forces from the border with Ukraine.
"Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops,\’\’ Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters ahead of the NATO meeting in Brussels.
So far, NATO has increased air patrols over the Baltics and the United States is planning more intense military exercises with Poland.
Diplomats say the ministers could decide to step up NATO military exercises or possibly set up permanent bases in Eastern Europe, closer to the Russian border.
Romania\’s president informed the lower house of parliament Tuesday that the United States is seeking permission to increase the number of troops and aircraft it has stationed at an airbase in the NATO ally.
Mihail Kogalniceanu air base on the Black Sea is a major hub for U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan and is located not far from Ukraine\’s Crimea peninsula, annexed last month by Russia.
Russia pulled back hundreds of troops from its border with Ukraine Monday, but tens of thousands still remain.
Presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko is calling for early parliamentary elections in Ukraine.
Tymoshenko is a strong proponent of cutting Ukraine\’s dependence on Russia.
"I think that it\’s high time to take all steps to put an end to the whole system of Ukraine\’s dependence on the Russian Federation because the Russian Federation blatantly uses all our contacts in the energy sphere, in the economic, humanitarian and military spheres," she said at a Tuesday news conference. "That is why the end of Ukraine\’s dependence on Russia is a strategic aim of Ukraine."
Meanwhile, in Ukraine on Tuesday, the parliament voted to disarm illegal armed groups.
Police shut down the Kyiv base of a far-right nationalist group that played a key role in the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych after three people were injured in a shooting incident.
"The Ukrainian people demand order," said acting President Oleksandr Turchinov. "Those who have weapons can only belong to the armed forces of Ukraine, the national guard and the security service of Ukraine or other military groups.\’\’
Meanwhile, Russian energy firm Gazprom has announced an increase of the price it charges Ukraine for gas from Tuesday.
Gazprom\’s chief executive Alexei Miller said the price of Russian gas for Ukraine had gone up to $385.5 (£231) per 1,000 cubic metres in the second quarter of 2014 from the previous rate of $268.5.
Miller added that Ukraine\’s unpaid gas bills to Russia stood at $1.7bn.
Tensions between the Kremlin and the West rose after the overthrow of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, following months of street protests.
Source – Agencies