NATO to endorse measures against Russia over missile treaty

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says allied defense ministers are set to endorse a list of measures against Russia should it refuse to comply with a major Cold War-era missile treaty.

Stoltenberg said Tuesday that "tomorrow we will decide on the next steps in the case Russia does not comply.Read more on

Ukraine abandons nonaligned status in possible step towards NATO membership, Russia not happy

KYIV, Ukraine — The vote by Ukraine’s parliament to drop its nonaligned status, which could pave the way for a bid to join NATO, challenges the Kremlin’s ardent desire to keep NATO from taking a giant step toward the Russian heartland.

The move is likely to add difficulties to Wednesday’s round of talks aimed at resolving the Ukrainian crisis.

Five NATO countries — Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — now share relatively short borders on Russia’s western outskirts, totalling about 1,300 kilometres. Adding Ukraine’s 1,500-kilometre border with Russia to that would move the alliance’s eastward flank substantially, and put it roughly on the same longitude as Moscow.

Supporters of the Tuesday move, which passed by a 303-9 vote, said it was justified by Russian aggression toward Ukraine, including the annexation of its Crimean Peninsula in March and Russian support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where some 4,700 people have been killed since the spring.

But opponents said it will only increase tensions, and Moscow echoed that view.

“This is counterproductive, it only heats up the confrontation, creating the illusion that accepting such a law is the road to regulating the deep internal crisis in Ukraine,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Russia routinely characterizes the Ukrainian crisis as an internal matter and rejects claims from Ukraine and the West that it has sent troops and equipment to rebels in eastern Ukraine and shelled government positions from Russian border areas.

Although Ukraine had pursued NATO membership several years ago, it declared itself a nonbloc country after Russia-friendly Viktor Yanukovych became president in 2010. Yanukovych fled the country in February after months of street protests that exploded into violence, and was replaced by Western-leaning Petro Poroshenko in May.

Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its support for the separatist insurgency appear partly rooted in fears that the Western military alliance could expand its presence on the Russian border.

The vote does not mean that Ukraine will apply to join NATO. But “in the conditions of the current aggression against Ukraine, this law opens for us new mechanisms,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told the parliament.

However, Ukraine’s prospects for NATO membership in the near term appear dim. With its long-underfunded military suffering from the war with the separatists and the country’s economy in peril, Ukraine has much to overcome to achieve the stability that the alliance seeks in members.

An alliance official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with NATO practice, told The Associated Press “our door is open and Ukraine will become a member of NATO if it so requests and fulfils the standards and adheres to the necessary principles.”

Negotiators from Ukraine, Russia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the eastern rebels are to meet Wednesday in the Belarusian capital Minsk for another round of talks on resolving the Ukraine crisis.

Since a cease-fire agreement was reached in Minsk on Sept. 5, fighting has diminished. But both sides report frequent cease-fire violations and there is incomplete progress on the stipulation for each side to pull back its heavy weaponry to create a buffer zone.

Russia’s envoy to NATO, Alexander Grushko, told the Interfax news agency that the Ukrainian vote creates “serious complications in the search for a way to end the violence and change the situation into a political process.”
Another meeting of the so-called “contact group” in Minsk has been set for Friday, indicating no significant decisions are expected at the Wednesday session.

Heidi Tagliavini of Switzerland, the OSCE’s lead figure at the talks, said the participants would discuss how to solidify the cease-fire, the pullback of heavy weaponry, a complete exchange of prisoners taken by both sides in the conflict and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The volatile issue of determining a final status for the separatist regions is far from resolved. The rebels had sought absorption into Russia, but Moscow has fended off that request, instead calling for a federalization of Ukraine that would give the country’s regions more autonomy from the central government.

Sweden says Russian warplane nearly crashed into passenger jet — but both Russia and the airline deny it

MOSCOW — Russia’s Defence Ministry on Sunday denied Swedish claims that for the second time this year a Russian military aircraft had nearly collided with a passenger jet over Sweden, insisting that the two planes were never less than 70 kilometres apart.

Scandinavian Airlines, which was operating the commercial flight, also said the incident had been blown out of proportion and that no danger had been posed to Friday’s flight from Copenhagen to Poznan, Poland.

Swedish military officials raised the alarm on Saturday by announcing that the Russian intelligence plane, which had turned off its transponders to avoid commercial radar, had come dangerously close to colliding with the passenger jet.

“This is serious. This is inappropriate. This is outright dangerous when you turn off the transponder,” Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said on Swedish radio.

Russia responded on Sunday by insisting that its military aircraft had been operating in compliance with rules governing international airspace and flying at a safe distance from routes used by civilian flights.

“There were no prerequisites for an air accident,” Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

SAS also said the Russian aircraft had maintained a safe distance.

“This has been blown out of all proportion, completely,” SAS spokesman Knut Morten Johansen said. “It wasn’t even an incident.” He said there was no breach “because the safety distance between aircraft hadn’t been exceeded.”

Sweden’s air force chief, Maj. Gen. Micael Byden, said Saturday that the incident in international air space looked “pretty serious” and the commercial flight was immediately ordered to change course, but he said it was not as serious as in March when a Russian plane flying without transponders came within 100 metres of another SAS plane that had taken off from Copenhagen.

Russia has increased its military presence in the Baltic Sea area as tensions with the West have risen over the conflict in Ukraine. NATO also has air patrols over the Baltic Sea and rotates NATO military units in and out of member countries in the region.

This has been blown out of all proportion, completely

Konashenkov said the number of flights by NATO warplanes along Russia’s borders has tripled in recent months, and a NATO reconnaissance plane was flying between the Russian aircraft and the passenger jet on Friday. NATO aircraft also fly in international air space with their transponders switched off, he said.

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish foreign minister, said this practice should be changed. “Should we seek an agreement for all military planes in international air in Baltic area to use transponders? For transparency and safety,” he wrote in a Twitter post.

With files from Matti Huuhtanen, Associated Press