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NATO and Russia in clinch over missile defense

As NATO ministers meet in Brussels, Russia says it will deploy missiles aimed at Europe in response to plans by NATO to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

NATO headquarters in Brussels

NATO insists on missile shield, despite Russian objections

Originally, the main topic on the agenda of the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels (Dec. 7-8) was supposed to be a review of the Afghanistan conference in Bonn, Germany, earlier this week. The military mission there is slated to end in 2014. But, that does not mean NATO will disappear entirely from Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmusssen reminded participants in Brussels of the pledge made at the Afghanistan conference.

“The international community fleshed out its long-term involvement in Afghanistan at the Bonn conference. NATO will continue to provide its full contribution. We will consider what support we can offer at the end of the transition in 2014,” he said.

Memories of the Cold War

The focus on Afghanistan evaporated quickly, however, in light of Moscow’s announcement a day before the NATO meeting that it would deploy missiles in its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad – essentially next door to the alliance – in response to NATO’s plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Rasmussen: No Russian interference

For Rasmussen, that is nothing more than “a waste of money.” He said that the missile defense system was in no way aimed at or against Russia. He emphasized that NATO would not tolerate Russian objections to its own internal affairs. The alliance, however, is dependent on Russia for supply routes to Afghanistan.

Could there be some sort of horse-trade? The Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Störe rejects that thought.

“I think one should not combine things that have nothing to do with each other. It is in Russia’s and NATO’s interest that the international operation in Afghanistan is continued,” he said.

The NATO ministers on Thursday were conferring with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Brussels about the missile defense system. But, after the Russian announcement, things do not look all too rosy.

"Arms race"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Lavrov said NATO is not taking Russian interests into account

Earlier on Wednesday, the chief of staff of Russia's armed forces, General Nikolai Makarov, warned that his country was "being pushed" into an arms race over the NATO shield.

Foreign Minister Lavrov told the Itar-Tass news agency that Russia's "legitimate demands" were not being "taken into account."

Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, had suggested that Moscow could reduce cooperation with the Western alliance in Afghanistan if its concerns over the missile shield were not respected.

Rasmussen, however, dismissed Rogozin's comment as an "empty threat," saying that it was in "Moscow's self interest to contribute to a success in Afghanistan."

Washington, the main backer of the missile shield, argues that the system is aimed at countering a possible threat from Iran and in no way targets Russia.

Kosovo unrest

Another item on the conference agenda is Kosovo and the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force there.

Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, once more condemned an attack by Serbs on KFOR soldiers in northern Kosovo at the end of May, in which German soldiers were among those injured.

NATO battling with Serbs at roadblocks

NATO has decided to maintain its troop levels in Kosovo to prevent future violence

Westerwelle said that NATO expected "not only that these attacks cease and are not repeated, but that all politicians in the region do their utmost to ensure that such a thing does not happen again."

"When our soldiers are attacked, then we are attacked as well. That cannot be tolerated," Westerwelle said.

The soldiers were attacked while they were dismantling a roadblock erected by ethnic Serbs opposed to Kosovo's ethnic Albanian government.

No troop reduction

In the light of the violence in Kosovo, Rasmussen said NATO would not reduce KFOR troop numbers by half in February as originally planned, but leave levels as they were, at around 6,000 soldiers.

Despite all setbacks, Rasmussen pledged commitment to helping the entire western Balkan region become integrated into the western structures.

"We are very committed to the Euro-Atlantic integration of all the countries in the region. But that requires more democratic reforms, and these reforms must become reality."

EU candidate status for Serbia?

His remarks can be read as an indirect recommendation to the European Union to grant Serbia EU candidate status, which EU leaders are to decide upon at a meeting on Friday.

Luxembourg's deputy prime minister, Jean Asselborn, went further in his statements, saying that giving Serbia candidate status would be in the interest not just of Serbia, but of NATO and the EU.

"I believe that there is no other choice here. It cannot be desired that nationalistic tendencies take the upper hand in Serbia and the conflict with Kosovo becomes much more intense," Asselborn said.

Asselborn's comments are in contrast with those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who after the November attack said that Serbia was not yet ready to hold accession talks with the EU.

Author: Christoph Hasselbach / gb (AP, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Holly Fox

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