Ukraine president meets with NATO amid Kremlin warning

SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- The appearance by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the opening of a critical NATO summit Thursday underscored the West’s determination to confront Russia over Ukraine, but it also rankled the Kremlin, which warned that Kiev’s NATO ambitions are threatening to derail fragile peace talks.

Even before the formal proceedings began Thursday in the Welsh town of Newport, Poroshenko met with President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to seek support for Ukraine from the 28-nation security alliance.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told journalists in Newport on Thursday that the conference was “taking place in a radically changed security environment.” Rasmussen described a reported peace plan between Russia and Ukraine as “so-called,” adding that “what matters is actually what is happening on the ground.”

NATO officials have made clear that membership for Ukraine isn’t in the cards anytime soon, but the alliance is expected to express solid support for Poroshenko’s government and announce an increase in nonlethal aid for Ukraine’s military. “In its declaration, NATO will confirm resolute bilateral steps by its member states to support military and technological support for Ukraine,” Poroshenko said Thursday. “This is exactly what we were waiting for,” he said.

Obama and Cameron set the tone for the NATO gathering at a luxury hotel and golf course in rural Wales by penning a joint opinion piece in the (London) Times on Thursday morning that criticized Russia for its behavior in Ukraine and also sent warnings to Islamic State militants.

NATO and the United States have criticized Russia for direct military involvement, including weapons and troops, in the fighting between Ukraine’s armed forces and pro-Russian separatists. Russia denies that it is involved in the fighting. More than 2,600 people have died in the clashes since April, according to a United Nations report.

Obama and Cameron said they will lead attempts to secure global peace and security by being “more forthright in the defense of our values, not least because a world of greater freedom is a fundamental part of how we keep out own people safe.”

“We meet at a time when the world faces many dangerous and evolving challenges. To the east, Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening a sovereign nation. To the south, there is an arc of instability from North Africa and the Sahel to the Middle East,” the two leaders said.

They wrote that NATO — an institution that arose out of the ashes of a Europe that was shattered by World War II and was looking to stamp out any future threat of European militarism — must adapt to meet the newer challenges of our time.

“We must use our military to ensure a persistent presence in Eastern Europe, making clear to Russia that we will always uphold our Article 5 commitments to collective self-defense,” they said. “And we must back this up with a multi-national rapid response force, composed of land, air, maritime and special forces, that could deploy in the world at very short notice.”

The NATO meeting also opened against a backdrop of talks in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, over a possible cease-fire agreement over Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sketched out what he said was a seven-point framework for an agreement that would call on Ukraine to pull back its armed forces from cities and villages in eastern Ukraine and called on separatists to end their military operations. Putin said Poroshenko had agreed to the broad outlines of the possible deal.

But it was Petroshenko’s presence at the NATO summit that signaled a tougher line by Kiev against Russia’s military activities in Ukraine.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned NATO on Thursday not to offer membership to Ukraine, Russian news agencies reported. “It (would be) a blatant attempt to derail all efforts at initiating a dialog of national reconciliation,” he said.

Lavrov said in televised remarks that statements by senior government officials in Kiev that Ukraine will be seeking to join NATO are “a blatant attempt to derail all the efforts” to seek a peaceful solution in Ukraine.

If Ukraine were to join NATO, the military bloc would be charged with responsibility for its security under Article 5, a charter that deems an attack on one NATO member to be an attack on the entire alliance.

At the site of the NATO summit, security was intense for the two-day conference that is hosting around 60 heads of state and senior diplomats, as well as several thousand delegates. Summit organizers erected a huge 12-mile steel fence around the Celtic Manor hotel and golf course. In the center of Newport, several hundred protesters staged anti-NATO demonstrations, angry at NATO defense spending, which targets 2% of GDP.

Obama, who is the first serving president to visit Wales, arrived in the town of Newport on Wednesday and spent Thursday morning visiting local school children with the British prime minister.

While Ukraine will be the focus of much of the summit, Obama and Cameron also spelled out in their opinion piece the threat from Islamic extremists.

In language that may ultimately foreshadow more aggressive military intervention against the Islamic State, which is responsible for the recent beheading of two Western journalists, Obama and Cameron wrote: “If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong. Countries like Britain and America will not be cowed by barbaric killers.”

They said that the “utterly despicable murders of two American journalists by (IS) are but the latest evidence of a brutal and poisonous extremism that murders indiscriminately and risks exporting terrorism abroad.”

NATO held its last major summit in 2012 in Chicago, but it last met in Britain in 1990 when Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister, President H.W. Bush held sway in Washington and the Cold War was drawing to a close.

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