NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks in Paris during a seminar on NATO transformation. (NATO)
PARIS — Russia risks driving itself into political isolation if Moscow continues to destabilize Ukraine, with the prospect of a breakdown of relations with the NATO defense organization, alliance chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Tuesday.
“If Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine it would be an historic mistake,” Rasmussen told a press conference at a high-level seminar on NATO transformation.
“It would have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia and it would further isolate Russia internationally,” he said.
Rasmussen was speaking after pro-Russian protesters April 6 seized public buildings in three Ukrainian cities — Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk — and called for a referendum to leave Ukraine.
“Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine is the greatest challenge to Europe’s security in a generation,” Rasmussen said. “I urge Russia to step back and not escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine.
“So I continue to urge Russia to pull back its troops, fulfill its international commitments and engage in a constructive dialogue with the Ukrainian parliament.”
NATO has suspended practical cooperation with Russia, while keeping political and diplomatic channels open, Rasmussen said.
NATO foreign ministers will meet in June and decide on how to handle the 1997 Founding Act and the 2002 Rome declaration, two cooperation agreements signed with Russia, in the light of the Ukraine crisis, he said.
The Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security aimed to boost cooperation, while the 2002 NATO — Russia Council included joint military exercises.
“Our decisions should be seen in the broad international response to Russia’s illegal actions, including responses from the United States and the European Union,” Rasmussen said. “Further steps will … depend on possible further Russian action.”
Regarding Ukraine, foreign ministers of the alliance met April 1 and “decided to enhance our cooperation with Ukraine,” he said.
NATO will work with Kiev to boost “cooperation in defense reforms, develop military capacity, and the ability of Ukrainian armed forces to work …with armed forces of NATO countries,” he said.
Rasmussen called on European NATO members to lift military spending.
“Over the past years, some of our European allies have cut their defense spending by as much as 40 percent. While other countries, like Russia, are increasing theirs by 30 percent,” he said.
French Air Force Gen. Jean-Paul Palomeros, NATO supreme allied commander transformation, led the seminar.