NATO ready to defend friends, Rasmussen says
Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. AFP PhotoNATO is very concerned about a Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and has all plans in place to defend members of the alliance, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on March 25.
“We are very much concerned about the Russian military build-up along the borders of Ukraine,” Rasmussen told a news conference after talks with Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.
“All NATO allies can be assured of our determination to provide effective defense ... We have all plans in place to provide effective defense of our allies,” he said, adding that the Western military alliance was discussing with Kyiv how it could enhance its support for non-NATO member Ukraine.
His statements came two days after the alliance’s top military commander said Russia had built up a “very sizeable” force on its border with Ukraine and Moscow may have a region in another ex-Soviet republic, Moldova, in its sights after annexing Crimea.
Russia was acting more like an adversary than a partner, said NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, adding that the 28-nation alliance should rethink the positioning and readiness of its forces in Eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s acting defense minister was dismissed over his handling of Russia’s annexation of Crimea after it emerged that less than a quarter of the soldiers on the peninsula planned to stay in the Ukrainian military. Ihor Tenyukh, appointed a month ago under an interim government that took power after the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych, offered his resignation in a speech to Parliament following criticism of the way Ukraine pulled its military out of Crimea.
Lawmakers initially rejected the offer but, after consultations between party faction leaders and Parliamentary Speaker and acting Ukrainian President Oleksander Turchinov, voted to remove him.
Critics said Tenyukh should have been quicker to order the pullout from Crimea, which began on March 24, to better safeguard Ukrainian servicemen, many of whom were trapped in their bases surrounded by Russian soldiers and local militiamen.
Meanwhile, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko denounced as a montage a tape broadcast by Russian state television where she is heard urging the “wiping out” of Russians and President Vladimir Putin.
Tymoshenko confirmed the voice was hers but said the comments had been manipulated. “This really crosses all the boundaries,” Tymoshenko is heard to say in the leaked phone call posted on YouTube and broadcast extensively on Russian television. “One has to take up arms and go wipe out these damn ‘katsaps’ together with their leader,” the voice said in Russian, without mentioning Putin by name. The word “katsap” is a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russians.
During the conversation, Tymoshenko is said to discuss Russia’s seizing of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea with Ukrainian MP and former government official Nestor Shufrych. Tymoshenko said that if she were in power Moscow would not have been able to take the peninsula.