Nato announces review of its co-operation with Russia

Efforts continue to try and pressure Moscow into backing down on Ukraine

Pro-Russian protesters clash with riot police outside the regional parliament building in Donetsk, Ukraine today. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/The New York Times

Pro-Russian protesters clash with riot police outside the regional parliament building in Donetsk, Ukraine today. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/The New York Times

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 21:34

Nato announced a full review of its cooperation with Russia today 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.

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said alliance officials would no longer hold staff-level meetings with their Russian counterparts, while stepping up engagement with Ukraine’s civilian and military leadership.

“We have also decided that no staff-level civilian or military meetings with Russia will take place for now,” Mr Rasmussen told reporters after a meeting between Nato and Russian officials in Brussels.

Nato has been in talks with Russia on a possible joint mission to protect a US ship that will destroy Syria’s deadliest chemical weapons.

Meanwhile armed men stopped a special representative of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Ukraine’s Crimea region today,Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.

Mr Serry phoned Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister and described the incident as it was unfolding, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Yevhen Perebiynis said.

He agreed to leave Crimea to end the stand-off.

he flew to Istanbul after the incident and, according to the United Nations, would head from there back to Kiev.

His interpreter, Vadim Kastelli, said Mr Serry was escorted to the airport without being given a chance to pick up his bags from his hotel and placed on the first flight out.

Crimea is under the control of Russian military forces, although Moscow describes its troops there who wear no insignia on their uniforms as “self-defence” units of the local administration.

US secretary of state John Kerry has urged direct talks between Russia and Ukraine during a brief discussion with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov today.

It was the first time Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov have met face to face since Russian troops effectively occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

“The Secretary urged direct talks between Russia and Ukraine,” a senior State Department official said of the brief “pull aside” on the sidelines of a conference on Lebanon in Paris.

Earlier, foreign ministers from the United States, France, Germany, Britain and Russia met separately to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

Ukraine and British foreign ministers have agreed that direct talks between Ukraine and Russia, facilitated by the international community, are crucial to resolving tensions with Russia, according to a joint statement released today.

They also agreed that international observers should be immediately deployed in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Earlier today the United States and Britain failed in an attempt to bring Russia and Ukraine together at a meeting in Paris as diplomatic efforts to ease tensions continue.

Mr Kerry told reporters that “regrettably” one member, Russia, had not appeared for a meeting of the so-called Budapest agreement group, which involves Washington, London, Moscow and Kiev.

British foreign secretary William Hague said every diplomatic effort would be made to bring the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine together later in the day. Mr Hague warned he is “not optimistic” of making progress on the Ukraine crisis when he meets Mr Lavrov later.

He said discussions with Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry in Paris would be a “test” of whether Moscow was ready to make concessions to defuse the situation. But he said there was little sign that Russia would agree to set up a “contact group” for direct talks with the government in Kiev.

EU aid package

Meanwhile European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has said the EU is ready to provide Ukraine an €11 billion aid package in loans and grants over the coming years.

International monitors are due to travel to a Crimea now controlled by Moscow’s troops. Mr Lavrov said today Russia cannot order pro-Russian armed groups in Crimea to return to their bases because they are “self-defence” forces and do not answer to Moscow.

Mr Lavrov repeated Russia‘s assertion that armed men deployed there are not Russian forces, said Russian naval personnel were in normal positions and said it was up to Crimean and Ukrainian authorities to grant international observers access.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said todayEuropean Union leaders meeting in Brussels tomorrow could decide on sanctions against Russia if there is no “de-escalation” by then.

Ukraine flag

This afternoon, pro-Moscow youths recaptured the administrative headquarters of the eastern city of Donetsk and flew the Russian flag from its roof, hours after Kiev’s authorities managed to fly their own flag there for the first time since Saturday.

Police said earlier they were evacuating the building, which has been occupied since Monday by pro-Russian demonstrators. A police statement said the evacuation began after reports that the building was booby-trapped with explosives.

Donetsk is the home city of deposed president Viktor Yanukovich.