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NATO chief: Russian aggression is 'wake-up call'

Mar. 19, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia's advances in Ukraine are the greatest threat to European security since the Cold War. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — Russia’s advances in Ukraine are the greatest threat to European security since the Cold War, NATO’s chief was expected to argue, in a speech Wednesday making clear the international military alliance must refocus on risks closer to home after years of fighting in far-away war zones.

“This is a wake-up call,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in remarks prepared for a Washington think-tank. An advance copy was obtained by The Associated Press.

He lambasted Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s strategic Crimea Peninsula as illegal and illegitimate, and repeated NATO’s decision to suspend a joint maritime escort with Russia for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Additionally, Rasmussen was expected to outline bolstered military measures under preparation for NATO states, if needed, to respond to Russia, including surveillance flights over Poland and Romania, and additional assets for an airspace protection mission over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

“This is the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War,” Rasmussen said in the prepared afternoon speech at the Brookings Institution.

He added: “Developments in Ukraine are a stark reminder that security in Europe cannot be taken for granted. …We need to focus on the long-term strategic impact of Russia’s aggression on our own security.”

Rasmussen’s speech briefly touched on other NATO priorities — including the war in Afghanistan, peacekeeping in Kosovo and stopping piracy off the coast of Somalia. He was to describe ending NATO combat mission in Afghanistan at the year’s end, and prepare for “a future relationship” with that country.

NATO has been pushing Kabul to sign security agreements with the U.S. and the alliance that would allow international troops to remain in Afghanistan for a training mission extending beyond a Dec. 31 deadline for withdrawal. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly refused, frustrating Western leaders who hope his successor will quickly agree after presidential elections this spring.

But the advances by Russia have forced some U.S. and NATO officials to question whether European forces will be willing to continue the mission in Afghanistan if their own borders are threatened.

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