New NATO head seeks 'constructive relationship' with Russia

1st October 2014, Comments 0 comments

New NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday Russia must reverse course in Ukraine but stressed the alliance still remains ready to have a constructive relationship with Moscow.

Russia's intervention in Ukraine "is a major challenge to Euro-Atlantic security", former Norway prime minister Stoltenberg told his first press conference as NATO head after replacing Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"We need to see a clear change in Russia's actions, a change which demonstrates compliance with international law and with Russia's international obligations and responsibilities," he said.

But asked if he shared the view that Russia was acting as an adversary, Stoltenberg did not reply directly.

Instead, he recalled that while alliance leaders agreed at their Wales summit earlier this month to step up defence spending and NATO readiness, they "also underlined that we still aspire to a constructive relationship."

Strengthening the alliance does not mean its 28 alliance members sought confrontation with Russia, he said.

"I see no contradiction between a strong NATO and our efforts to build a relationship with Russia," he said, adding it was in fact "just the opposite... only a strong NATO can build this relationship."

He said his first trip as new secretary general would take in NATO members Poland, where Russian actions in Ukraine are raising fresh fears over its ultimate intentions in eastern Europe, and Turkey, where spillover from the Syrian and Iraq conflicts is causing huge concern.

Rasmussen, a former centre-right Danish prime minister, was criticised in some quarters for taking a very hard line on Russia over Ukraine and analysts said Stoltenberg was expected to be more nuanced in his approach.

As a centre-left Norwegian premier, Stoltenberg enjoyed good relations with Moscow and negotiated several key agreements with Russia.

With the fall of Communism, Russia has seen many of its Soviet-era satellites switch allegiance to the West and some, such as Poland and the Baltic states, have joined NATO to Moscow's dismay.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has described the end of the Soviet Union as a disaster, appears set on preventing Ukraine from following suit, sparking the worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Stoltenberg said NATO, formed to protect Western Europe from the Soviet threat in 1949, faces challenges new and old, with the Wales summit setting the new direction it must take.

Alliance leaders specifically agreed to increase defence spending after years of decline, setting a target of two percent of annual economic output within 10 years.

They also highlighted the security threat posed by turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, which cannot be ignored, Stoltenberg said.

Summing up, he said he had three priorities -- ensure NATO is strong, promote stability and "keep the bond between Europe and North America rock solid."

© 2014 AFP

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