Yesterday in a phone conversation with Angela Merkel Putin claimed that he was pulling back troops from the Ukrainian border. Today NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen challenges that claim.
Some NATO members are cautious about taking steps that could aggravate the crisis, particularly after Moscow said on Monday it had pulled some troops back from near the Ukrainian border.The NATO foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels today to discuss plans for responding to the situation in Ukraine. There is a proposal on the table for a comprehensive approach to strengthening ties with the former USSR states.
But a NATO military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia still had 35,000 to 40,000 troops stationed near the border and that there was no sign of any significant reduction in their numbers.
Before the meeting, a Nato committee drafted plans "for promoting stability in eastern Europe in the current context" by increasing military co-operation with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova – all in Russia's "near abroad" and considered by Moscow as falling within its sphere of influence.Meanwhile Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, is putting the financial screws to Ukraine.
A confidential seven-page paper leaked to the German news weekly Der Spiegel proposed joint exercises and training between Nato and the three countries, increasing the "interoperability" of their militaries with Nato, and their participation in Nato "smart defence" operations.
The paper also proposed opening a Nato liaison office in Moldova, military training for Armenia, and projects in Azerbaijan aimed at securing its Caspian Sea oil and gas fields.
Russia’s natural-gas export monopoly raised prices for Ukraine 44 percent after a discount deal expired, heaping financial pressure on the government in Kiev as it negotiates international bailouts.This is happening at the same time that Ukraine has negotiated a loan arrangement with the IMF which requires the elimination of consumer gas subsidies.
OAO Gazprom (GAZP) said Ukraine is losing its right to pay less because it has piled up a debt of more than $1.7 billion since 2013. Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych won a lower price at the end of last year as he grappled with protests after ditching an association agreement with the European Union, on top of a previous discount in April 2010. That may also be overturned, according to Russia’s government.
The plot thickens and the kettle boils. Anybody who is looking for a quick and triumphal end to this situation is likely in for a disappointment.