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NATO Suspends Civilian, Military Cooperation With Russia

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses a news conference during a NATO foreign ministers meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on April 1.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses a news conference during a NATO foreign ministers meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on April 1.
BRUSSELS -- NATO says it is suspending "all practical civilian and military cooperation" with Russia in response to Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

The decision was made by NATO foreign ministers gathered at a meeting in Brussels on April 1. It was the first NATO meeting since Russia's annexation of Crimea last month.

The ministers, however, said political dialogue with Moscow will continue within the NATO-Russia Council.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that he also expects NATO to continue at least some cooperation with Russia on antinarcotics initiatives and the situation in Afghanistan.

"I would expect the [NATO-Russian] counternarcotics project [in Afghanistan] to continue," he said. "It also involves other countries than Russia and I think Russia has a very strong interest in continuing our strong efforts in countering drugs trafficking. I would also expect the Afghanistan-related cooperation projects to continue -- the [troop] transit arrangement as well as the helicopter projects."

Rasmussen said NATO was in agreement to help improve Ukraine's military, but said the alliance as a whole was not in a position to provide Ukrainian forces with weapons. He indicated that each individual NATO member is responsible for decisions on whether to supply arms.

"Military equipment is owned by NATO member states," he said. "So possible delivery of equipment [to Ukraine] is a bilateral arrangement between NATO allies and their partners."

Rasmussen said the alliance will also consider ways to enhance collective defense against any threat of aggression to alliance members.

Reports said this could include the possible deployment and reinforcement of military assets in eastern NATO members such as Poland and the Baltic states that feel menaced by Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference, the United States has already sent six F-15 fighters to perform air patrols over the Baltic region, deployed a dozen F-16s to Poland and dispatched the "USS Truxtun," a guided-missile destroyer, to the Black Sea.

The NATO ministers also talked with Ukraine' acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya for a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. NATO said the ministers pledged to intensify cooperation and promote defense reforms in Ukraine through training and other programs.

Legal Action Against Russia

Speaking after the meeting, Deshchytsya said Ukraine did not ask for NATO membership at the talks. Deshchytsya said there is "no legal basis" currently for Ukraine to apply for NATO membership.

Deshchytsya also said Ukraine planned to pursue legal action against Russia in the International Court of Justice in a bid to recover Crimea.

"We consider Crimea as an integral part of Ukraine and we are planning to submit legal cases to the international courts against Russia and against Russian actions in Crimea," he said. "We believe that with the international support, we will be able to return Crimea to Ukraine."

Earlier on April 1, Ukraine's parliament unanimously approved conducting military exercises with NATO countries. The drills would be conducted at some point between May and November.

Also on April 1, Russia warned Ukraine against integration with NATO, saying future economic ties between Moscow and Kyiv will largely depend on Ukraine's foreign policy actions.

Russia's state-controlled gas giant, Gazprom, said on the same day that it was increasing the gas price for Ukraine by more than 40 percent, to $385.5 per 1,000 cubic meters, from the previous rate of $268.5.

Gazprom says Ukraine's debt for unpaid gas bills is $1.7 billion.

The discount had been negotiated by pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by pro-Western protesters at the end of February.

NATO's Rasmussen earlier dismissed reports that Russia had begun withdrawing troops from areas near its border with Ukraine, saying he had seen no evidence of a military drawdown.

U.S. and EU officials have estimated that Russia in the past month massed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine.

The military buildup had raised concerns that, after annexing Crimea, Russia might invade other parts of Ukraine.

On March 31, the Russian Defense Ministry said it was withdrawing a battalion that had ended what it says were routine military drills near the border.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and Interfax
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