Russia decries 'new Cold War' as East-West strains cloud talks

Published: February 13, 2016
Dmitry Medvedev speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 13, 2016 . PHOTO: AFP

Dmitry Medvedev speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 13, 2016 . PHOTO: AFP

MUNICH: The world has plunged into a “new Cold War”, the Russian premier said Saturday, as East-West tensions over Ukraine and Syria took centre-stage at a gathering of world leaders in Germany.

“We have slid into a new period of Cold War,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told the audience at the Munich Security Conference.

“Almost every day we are accused of making new horrible threats either against NATO as a whole, against Europe or against the US or other countries,” Medvedev added.

It did not take long for those accusations to resurface in Munich, as a group of leaders from eastern Europe took the stage to criticise Russia’s assertive foreign policy.

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“Every single day, Russian troops, Russian weapons, Russian ammunition penetrate into my country,” said Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko.

He addressed Russia’s president, who was not present, saying:  “Mr Putin, this is not a civil war in Ukraine, this is your aggression. This is not a civil war in Crimea, this is your soldiers who occupied my country. This is not a civil war in Syria, this is your planes bombing the civilian population.”

Poroshenko warned that “pro-Russian parties” were undermining Europe from within with an alternative set of values.

“Isolationism, intolerance, disrespect of human rights, religious fanatics, homophobia — this alternative Europe has a leader. His name is Mr Putin.”

By contrast, Medvedev had earlier criticised the expansion of NATO and EU influence deep into formerly Soviet-ruled eastern Europe, which Russia still sees as its sphere of influence.

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“European politicians thought that creating a so-called belt of friends at Europe’s side, on the outskirts of the EU, could be a guarantee of security, and what’s the result?” he said. “Not a belt of friends but a belt of exclusion.”

But Medvedev also struck a more positive note, saying: “Our positions differ, but they do not differ as much as 40 years ago when a wall was standing in Europe.”

He urged more dialogue, citing the “shining example” of the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill in Cuba on Friday.

He also called for greater military cooperation in Syria, where Russia is backing a regime that the West wants to see removed from power.

The US and Russian militaries “should be in contact 10 times a day,” he said.

NATO general secretary Jens Stoltenberg also addressed the forum, vowing a firm stance against Russia while also boosting dialogue.

“We have seen a more assertive Russia, a Russia which is destabilising the European security order,” he said. “NATO does not seek confrontation and we don’t want a new Cold War. At the same time our response has to be firm.”

NATO was now “undertaking the biggest reinforcement to our collective defence in decades, to send a powerful signal to deter any aggression or intimidation. Not to wage war, but to prevent war.”

Earlier this week, Stoltenberg announced that plans had been approved for an increased NATO presence in eastern Europe — which sources said would involve between 3,000 and 6,000 troops rotating through the region.

“Russia’s rhetoric, posture and exercises of its nuclear forces are aimed at intimidating its neighbours, undermining trust and stability in Europe,” Stoltenberg said in Munich.

The NATO chief said that “some are concerned that we are sleepwalking toward escalation with Russia… I understand those concerns but I do not share them.”

He urged a “more constructive and more cooperative relationship with Russia… I strongly believe that the answer lies with both more defence and more dialogue.”

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