Top NATO diplomats to meet amid Ukraine demands for support against Russian aggression
Sevil ERKUŞ - BRUSSELS
NATO is seeking a robust response after the seizure of three Ukrainian ships by Moscow sparked a major crisis, as the foreign ministers of the alliance will convene Dec. 4-5 in Brussels with Russia atop their agenda.
“Russia recently seized Ukrainian ships and sailors near the Kerch Strait. There is no justification for this use of force. We call for calm and restraint. Russia must release the Ukrainian sailors and ships. It must also allow the freedom of navigation and unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Dec. 3 ahead of the ministerial meeting.
Ukrainian vessels, military as well as civilian, have the right to navigate through the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, he added.
NATO allies will meet with two of the partners of the alliance, Georgia and Ukraine, to demonstrate support against security threats posed by Russia. Ukraine appeals to the Alliance for a more forceful response, but Stoltenberg signals that the alliance is not eager for a naval confrontation with Russia.
“They both face serious security challenges from Russia, and we will continue to give both countries practical and political support through logistics and military training,” said the NATO secretary-general in response to NATO’s measures against Russian aggression on the borders of the alliance.
The NATO allies have also increased their presence in the Black Sea region and some member states deployed more ships to the region, he noted.
Ukraine has accused Russia of military aggression and puts its armed forces on full combat alert after Russia on Nov. 25 fired on and then captured the three ships and 24-strong crew in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea with the Azov Sea.
Kiev has urged its Western allies to consider further sanctions against Moscow and the Ukrainian leader wants NATO to send warships to the Azov Sea. Russia in its turn has accused Ukraine of plotting with the West to provoke a crisis.
“This is an enormous threat and, together with our allies, we are searching for an appropriate response to it,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said.
Amid a dramatic spike in tensions that raises fears of a wider escalation, NATO allies called on Moscow to release the Ukrainian sailors and ships it has seized, and to allow free navigation and unhindered access to Ukrainian ports.
The alliance will also discuss the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The meeting of the NATO members’ top diplomats in Brussels will be the first such event after the U.S. announcement on leaving the treaty. The ministers are expected to issue another warning to Moscow to come into compliance which would require destroying the 9M729 cruise missile.
NATO allies demand Russia “ensure full compliance with INF Treaty in a verifiable and transparent way,” said Stoltenberg, noting the alliance will not “mirror” Russian actions “missile by missile” but will respond. “We are closely assessing Russia’s military posture,” the secretary-general stated.
The INF Treaty, signed in 1987, bans nuclear-armed missiles with a range of up to 5,500 km and forms the basis of Europe’s security architecture. The U.S. accuses Moscow of breaching the deal with its Novator 9M729 cruise missile, known also as the SSC-8.