TIME europe

U.S. Envoy Blasts Kremlin Ahead of NATO Meeting

BELGIUM-NATO-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-AFGHANISTAN
US Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute gives a press conference on Dec. 1, 2014, at the organization's headquarters in Brussels. John Thys—AFP/Getty Images

The war of words between the Western military alliance and Moscow heated up ahead of a NATO gathering in Brussels on Tuesday

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute accused the Russian military on Monday of engaging in irresponsible aerial maneuvers that put civilian aircraft in unnecessary danger.

The envoy’s remarks follow the alliance’s public announcement in late October that accused the Russian military of conducting an unprecedented number of unannounced aerial forays into Europe’s skies. NATO says it has scrambled its own aircraft over 400 times in response to Russian incursions this year — a more than 50% increase than the total number during 2013.

“These Russian actions are irresponsible, pose a threat to civilian aviation and demonstrate that Russia is flagrantly violating international norms,” said Lute during a press conference in Brussels ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

NATO says Russian forces have repeatedly refused to submit flight plans to civilian air traffic control stations when flying exercises and, in multiple instances, have flown with their transponders turned off.

The Kremlin’s alleged indifference toward civilian aviation procedures is seen as particularly concerning to NATO members following Washington’s insistence that a Russian-supplied weapons system was responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in southeastern Ukraine this summer. Russia vehemently denies responsibility.

As relations between Moscow and the alliance continue to sour, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg boasted on Monday of the organization’s increased presence in Eastern Europe.

This year has been one of “aggression, crisis and conflict. But NATO stands strong,” said Stoltenberg during a press conference. “Russia’s aggressive actions have undermined Euro-Atlantic security.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin unleashed its own criticisms of NATO and panned the alliance for destabilizing northern Europe and the Baltics.

“They are trying to shake up the most stable region in the world, which is Europe’s north,” Alexei Meshkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, told his nation’s Interfax news agency. “Those endless military exercises, rebasing of aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the Baltic nations. This is the reality, a very negative one.”

NATO has been steadily increasing its defensive capabilities in Eastern Europe following Russia’s forceful annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March. In September, the alliance unveiled plans to build a new expeditionary outfit that would be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed.” On Monday, NATO’s secretary general said he expected the “spearhead force” to be ready by 2016.

TIME georgia

The U.S. Will Help Georgia Join NATO in Face of Putin’s ‘Dangerous Actions’

Georgia's Defence Minister Alasania and U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi
Georgia's Defence Minister Irakly Alasania (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi on September 7, 2014. David Mdzinarishvili —Reuters

The Kremlin's incursions in Ukraine have brought the U.S. and Georgia "closer together,” says Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Georgia over the weekend to beef up military ties and help the country join NATO.

Hagel’s visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, follows on the heels of the NATO summit in the U.K. last week, where Georgia was made a “NATO enhanced-opportunities partner,” according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement.

At a press conference in the Georgian capital on Sunday, Hagel said the country’s new standing will allow for more participation in more joint training exercises with NATO and boost cooperation.

“The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin,” said Hagel.

During a round of talks with the Georgian Minister of Defense, Irakli Alasania, Hagel also laid down conditions that would pave the way for the sale of Blackhawk choppers to Georgia.

The Secretary of Defense’s arrival in Georgia comes days after a tenuous cease-fire was signed in Belarus between Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Moscow of sending armored columns into Ukraine to reinforce the rebels, forcing the U.S. and its allies in Eastern Europe to close ranks.

“Russia’s actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” said Hagel. “But President Putin’s actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”

During a joint press conference in Tbilisi, the Georgian Defense Minister warned that his country’s experience with Russia led to concerns that the Ukraine cease-fire would not last.

“We have bitter experience in Georgia trusting Russian cease-fires, so we better prepare for the contingencies,” Alasania told reporters.

In 2008, Georgian forces were routed during a five-day war against Russia — resulting in what Tbilisi says is the continued military occupation of the separatist territory of South Ossetia by Moscow.

While the uneasy truce appears to be largely holding in Ukraine, there were reports of scattered fighting in the war-weary southeast over the weekend.

TIME Eastern Europe

NATO Warns Russia Against ‘Historic Mistake’

A masked member of the Ukrainian special forces stands guard outside the regional administration building in Kharkiv, April 8, 2014. Olga Ivashchenko—Reuters

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Moscow that any further escalation in Ukraine would have "dire consequences"

NATO is warning Russia that any further intervention in Ukraine would be a “historic mistake” and has urged Moscow to pull back the tens of thousands of troops currently amassed on Ukraine’s southern and eastern borders.

“I urge Russia to step back and not escalate the situation in east Ukraine,” said Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Paris during a seminar on NATO reform, according to the BBC.

Hundreds of pro-Russia demonstrators seized and barricaded themselves inside government buildings in the east Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk on Sunday night, chanting “Russia! Russia!” and calling for “peacekeepers” to be sent in from across the frontier.

However, 56 people left a state security service building seized by pro-Russia activists in Luhansk overnight, the nation’s state security service (SBU) said early Wednesday.

A truce was agreed following negotiations between protesters and officials, and comes after the SBU accused those inside of wiring the building with explosives and holding 60 people hostage, charges denied by the protesters.

Demonstrators are demanding a referendum to facilitate the secession of eastern provinces from Ukraine to join Russia, in a similar vein to what recently took place in Crimea.

On Tuesday, a brawl erupted inside the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev after a Communist leader accused nationalists of adopting extreme tactics and so playing into the hands of Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is refusing to recognize the authorities in Kiev that took power after pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted following months of street protests.

Yanukovych fled Kiev for Russia in February after more than 100 people died in unrest triggered initially by his refusal to sign an tariff agreement with the E.U. and to instead pursue closer ties with Russia.

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