Russia says NATO reverts to Cold War-era mindset

Timothy Heritage

By Timothy Heritage

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia accused NATO on Wednesday of reverting to the "verbal jousting" of the Cold War by suspending cooperation with Moscow over its annexation of Crimea.

NATO foreign ministers agreed on Tuesday to suspend all practical cooperation with Russia, draft measures to strengthen defenses and reassure nervous eastern European countries in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War ended in 1991.

Moscow did not announce any measures to retaliate, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern over the moves in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia's Foreign Ministry said.

"The language of the statements rather resembles the verbal jousting of the 'Cold War' era," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

He noted that the last time NATO took such a decision, over Russia's five-day war with Georgia in 2008, the defense alliance

later resumed cooperation of its own accord.

"It is not hard to imagine who will gain from the suspension of cooperation between Russia and NATO on countering modern threats and challenges to international and European security, in particular in areas such as the fight against terrorism, piracy and natural and man-made disasters," Lukashevich said.

"In any case, it will certainly not be Russia or NATO member states."

Russian forces took control of Crimea, a Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula, which then voted to unite with Russia in a March 16 referendum seen as a sham in the West. Moscow formally annexed Crimea on March 21.

The suspension of NATO cooperation with Moscow means Russia cannot participate in joint exercises, although the alliance says joint work in Afghanistan - on training counter-narcotics personnel, maintaining Afghan air force helicopters and providing a transit route out of the country - could continue.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday NATO's future relationship with Russia would depend, among other things, on whether Russia started withdrawing troops massed near Ukraine's eastern border.

"The statements about Moscow's allegedly aggressive intentions posing a threat to NATO member states are absolutely groundless," said Alexander Grushko, Russia's permanent representative at NATO, according to Interfax news agency.

(Editing by Peter Graff)