By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST/BRUSSELS (BosNewsLife)– Foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are meeting in Brussels for the first time since Russia’s takeover of the Crimean Peninsula caused the worst East-West tensions since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The NATO gathering comes while tens of thousands of Russian troops remain near Ukraine’s border, despite a small withdrawal, and warnings of Ukrainian leaders that they will not accept Russian interference in their country’s internal affairs.
The ministers from the NATO military alliance’s 28 member states were to discuss the formal suspension of co-operation with Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andrey Deshchytsa was also due to attend the meeting.
In a sign of tensions not seen since the Cold War, they NATO officials were also looking at situating permanent military bases in the Baltic states to reassure members in Eastern Europe.
NATO jets are also to step up air patrols in the region as Russia’s actions have increased anxiety in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were once part of the Soviet Union.
RUSSIA’S PHONE CALL
They met after Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call that he had ordered the withdrawal of some troops from Ukraine’s borders.
However White House Spokesman Jay Carney said tens of thousands of Russian forces remain in place, complicating diplomatic efforts to end the crisis. “It will be a difficult process, a diplomatic one, to proceed in the current tense atmosphere, and that’s why we have called on Russia to pull its forces back to their pre-crisis positions and levels,” he said.
“It is also necessary to establish — for Russia to establish direct dialogue with Ukraine…”
Ukraine’s interim government agrees. It has called the withdrawal of some Russian troops as nothing more than a tactical maneuver.
NO FEDERAL STATE?
Additionally Ukraine’s acting-President Oleksandr Turchynov rejected Russian suggestions to make Ukraine a federal state, saying the “Russian government should solve the problems of the Russian Federation, not the problems of Ukraine.”
And the favorite to become Ukraine’s next president in May, businessman Petro Poroshenko, has told reporters that Russian forces should leave Crimea. “We are ready for significant compromise with Russia. We have one very simple pre-condition: ‘de-occupying’ Ukraine, to keep sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, to keep the independence of Ukraine,” he explained.
“And that’s why Russian forces should go from the Crimean Peninsula and Crimea should stay Ukrainian. And if it happens we are ready to give significant autonomy. We are ready to give a special status for Sevastopol. We are ready to provide special tax regime for the whole Crimea,” Poroshenko added.
In exchange he said Ukraine would provide significant autonomy and special tax status to the whole of Crimea.
RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER
He spoke a day after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Crimea, promising to turn the region into a special economic zone, as well as rising pensions and salaries.
Besides Russian forces, Ukraine’s interim government also deals with tensions closer to home in Kyiv, where police said they were hunting a gunman who shot and wounded three people, including a senior official in the mayor’s office.
The shooting happened outside a restaurant close to Independence Square, known as Maidan, where dozens were killed in unrest that led to the ouster of pro-Moscow President Victor Yanukovich.