by the NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Press Conference held following the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at NATO HQ, Brussels
The situation in Ukraine presents serious implications for the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.
And Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its own international commitments.
So NATO decided today to take a number of immediate steps.
We have suspended the planning for our first NATO-Russia joint mission. The maritime escort for the U.S. ship Cape Ray, which will neutralise Syria’s chemical weapons. Let me stress, this will not affect the destruction of chemical weapons, but Russia will not be involved in the escort of the US vessel.
We have also decided that no staff-level civilian or military meetings with Russia will take place for now.
We have put the entire range of NATO-Russia cooperation under review. NATO Foreign Ministers will take decisions on this in early April.
These steps send a clear message: Russia’s actions have consequences.
At the same time, we do want to keep the door open for political dialogue. So we are ready to maintain meetings of ambassadors in the NATO-Russia Council, as we have done today.
I have just chaired a frank and important meeting of the NATO-Russia Council to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
The NATO-Russia Council is a forum for discussions on all issues. Where we agree, and where we disagree.
As Chairman of the NATO-Russia Council, it is my duty to uphold the principles on which our relationship is founded.
Those fundamental principles are now at stake. Our joint pledge to observe in good faith our obligations under international law. And our commitment to refrain from the threat or use of force against each other, or any other state.
So I asked the Russian Ambassador to convey NATO’s firm message to Moscow.
At the same time we have decided to intensify our partnership with Ukraine, and strengthen our cooperation to support democratic reforms.
We will step up our engagement with the Ukrainian civilian and military leadership.
We will strengthen our efforts to build the capacity of the Ukrainian military, including with more joint training and exercises.
And we will do more to include Ukraine in our multinational projects to develop capabilities.
This will complement the international efforts to support the people of Ukraine as they shape their future. And tomorrow, I will meet the Prime Minister of Ukraine to make clear NATO’s support.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Al Jazeera.
Q: This is Erin, from CNN. With the entire range of the cooperation now under review, what are the next steps? Do you believe diplomacy alone can resolve this crisis?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I really do hope that diplomacy will pave the way for a long-term, sustainable political solution to this crisis in Crimea. But I also believe that steps as the one... as the steps we have taken today, as well as steps taken by other actors will facilitate diplomatic and political solutions. So I think some pressure on our Russian partners will pave the way for political and diplomatic solutions. That's what I hope.
OANA LUNGESCU: Al Jazeera.
Q: Simon McGregor-Wood with Al Jazeera. Secretary General, when you meet with the new Ukrainian prime minister tomorrow, would it be a good time to discuss the possibility of offering Ukraine NATO membership?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:It's for the Ukrainians to decide their future relationship with NATO. As you will recall, NATO made a decision back in 2008 at the NATO Summit in Bucharest that Ukraine and by the way also Georgia will become members of NATO, provided of course they so wish and provided they fulfilled the necessary criteria. This decision stands.
But, in the meantime, Ukraine has decided to pursue a non-bloc... or non-alliance policy. We fully respect that. We have an excellent partnership with Ukraine within the NATO-Ukraine Commission. We're ready to continue and further develop that partnership. And it's for Ukraine to decide if they want to further develop that relationship.
OANA LUNGESCU: NPR.
Q: Teri Shultz with NPR and CBS. These are relatively modest steps what you're doing today. Why did Allies decide not to go further in downgrading the relationship as was done when Russia invaded Georgia? Do you think this is going to be enough to really make Mr. Putin reconsider his moves in Crimea? Thanks.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Actually, I think this sends a very clear message to Russia. And by balancing our steps in such a way that we, on the one hand, suspend daily practical cooperation; but on the other hand also keep a channel open for political dialogue we hope that we can contribute to finding a political and diplomatic solution.
NATO is not the only actor here. You should see our steps in connection with steps taken and to be taken by other international organizations and individual nations. And I think all together this will send a very clear message to Russia that they must de-escalate tensions.
OANA LUNGESCU: ANSA.
Q: Marco Aldi (?), ANSA, do you think that economic sanctions can help to send that strong message that you want to send to Moscow; the economic sanctions that EU can take; USA can take; eventually reviewing the position of Russia in WTO?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As NATO Secretary General, I'm not going to interfere with EU decisions or decisions by individual nations as regards economic sanctions.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, that's all we have time for. Thank you.