NATO announces review of cooperation with Russia as EU freezes assets of ousted leader
BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
Pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in the Crimean town of Yevpatoria March 5. REUTERS photoNATO announced a full review of its cooperation with Russia to try to pressure Moscow into backing down on Ukraine and said it would suspend planning for a joint mission linked to Syrian chemical weapons. Meanwhile the European Union froze assets held in the 28-nation bloc by 18 Ukrainians accused of embezzlement, including ousted Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said alliance officials would no longer hold lower-level meetings with their Russian counterparts, while stepping up engagement with the civilian and military leadership of Ukraine, not a NATO member.
"We have also decided that no staff-level civilian or military meetings with Russia will take place for now," Rasmussen told reporters after a meeting between NATO and Russian officials in Brussels March 5.
"The situation in Ukraine presents serious implications for the security of the Euro-Atlantic area," he said. NATO has been in talks with Russia on a possible joint mission to protect the U.S. cargo ship Cape Ray that will destroy Syria's deadliest chemical weapons.
Under a U.S.-Russia deal reached after a chemical attack killed hundreds of people around Damascus last year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government should have handed over 1,300 tonnes of toxic chemicals by Feb. 5 for destruction abroad.
NATO's ties with Russia have improved since the Cold War ended but deteriorated following the defence alliance's eastward expansion to take in former Communist-ruled countries in eastern Europe and Moscow's war in Georgia in 2008. The alliance briefly suspended formal cooperation on security threats after the war but resumed it in 2009.
Russia's envoy to NATO accused the alliance of applying double standards and "Cold War" stereotypes to Russia after the NATO announcement.
"This meeting proved that NATO still has a double standard policy. And Cold War stereotypes are still applied towards Russia," Alexander Grushko told reporters.
EU to hold emergency meeting
After announcing the sanctions, EU leaders were to hold an emergency summit in Brussels March 6 to discuss the crisis in Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
The freeze, decided March 5, targets people "identified as responsible" for misappropriating Ukrainian state funds, an EU statement said.
The sanctions, which will apply for an initial 12 months, "also contain provisions facilitating the recovery of the frozen funds," the statement added, without offering further details.
But an EU source said member states would be able to return seized money only if Ukraine first issued judicial rulings identifying the missing funds.
All those named were cited for "embezzlement of Ukrainian state funds and their illegal transfer outside Ukraine."
Other than Yanukovych, who has taken refugee in Russia, the list names his son Oleksandr and 16 members of the former regime, including ministers and his attorney general.
Swiss authorities had already ordered a freeze on the assets of both Yanukovych and the multi-millionaire Oleksandr, as well as 18 other former ministers and officials from Ukraine.
Liechtenstein has also frozen the bank accounts of the same officials, while Austria has announced moves against 18 Ukrainian officials suspected of violating human rights and involvement in corruption.
The EU's foreign ministers had already decided on Feb. 20 to apply sanctions to any Ukrainian officials deemed responsible for violence against protesters in the days leading up to Yanukovych's ouster.
But at emergency talks this week, the same ministers agreed "to swiftly work on the adoption of restrictive measures for the freezing and recovery of assets of persons identified as responsible for the misappropriation of state funds."