NATO and Russia exchanged heated language reminiscent of Cold War days on Thursday with accusations of sinister geopolitical plotting and human rights abuses flying across an increasingly deep divide.
NATO’s top U.S. civilian official, Alexander Vershbow, said Thursday that “an angry, revisionist Russia” was stopping at little to re-establish its clout in Europe, including redrawing “borders by force to achieve its goals.”
Vershbow, the alliance’s deputy secretary-general, told a conference in Latvia that President Vladimir Putin’s “aim seems to be to turn Ukraine into a failed state and to suppress and discredit alternative voices in Russia, so as to prevent a Russian ‘Maidan,'” referring to the Ukraine uprising which ousted Moscow-ally Viktor Yanukovych as president last year.
He rattled off a litany of harsh accusations against the Kremlin.
Under Putin, Vershbow said, Russia has developed “a new form of ‘hybrid warfare,’ combining military intimidation, disguised intervention, the covert supply of weapons and weapon systems, economic blackmail, diplomatic duplicity and media manipulation, with outright disinformation.”
In Moscow, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov blasted the West for trying to enforce its will on others and cast Russia as an enemy. He condemned NATO’s decision to create command and control centers in the Baltic states and three other eastern allies, and to upgrade a headquarters unit in Poland — calling those moves a clear signal that the alliance views Russia much as it once did the Soviet Union.
Antonov said that while attending the recent Munich security conference he was struck by “mad, paranoid” talk about Russia’s coming military onslaught. “Western countries are building new divisive lines,” he said. “Russia has been picked up as a target.”
Russia’s permanent representative to NATO, Alexander Grushko, said the alliance is dreaming of a “Russian Maidan.”
The European Union and NATO have been harshly critical of Russia’s involvement in the standoff in eastern Ukraine and the annexation by Moscow of the Crimea peninsula.
The 28 EU nations have imposed a series of sanctions against Moscow, including visa bans and asset freezes on top Russian officials, with Antonov being the latest addition to the list.
Moscow rejects NATO claims that it has designs on its neighbors, countering that it the West that is using the Ukraine crisis to try to expand the alliance further east.
“NATO countries have used the situation in southeastern Ukraine as a pretext to drop diplomatic language, loopholes and slogans and move forward closer to Russian borders,” Antonov said in remarks released by the Russian defense ministry.
“The alliance has found a chance to find a new lease of life, as a phoenix. Everyone was thinking who would be the threat after the Soviet Union was gone,” he said. “Now they have a nice opportunity to cast Russia as an enemy.”
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