NATO Condemns Russia’s ‘Propaganda’ as Lavrov Cries Foul

NATO accused Russia of spreading “propaganda” about its reach in Europe as President Barack Obama signed legislation imposing sanctions on Russians for the incursion in Crimea and economic aid for Ukraine.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen rejected Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s contention that the U.S.-led alliance had broken a commitment to limit its military forces in eastern European countries. Rasmussen said yesterday it’s Russia, not NATO, that’s trampling on pledges made in the 1990s by wresting control of Crimea and massing troops near Ukraine’s borders.

“This is just another piece of Russian propaganda and disinformation,” he said in Brussels. “Russia is violating every principle and international commitment it has made, first and foremost the commitment not to invade other countries.”

The dispute over NATO’s role showed there’s been little headway in finding a diplomatic resolution to the confrontation over Ukraine. The deployment of as many as 40,000 Russian soldiers on Ukraine’s eastern border continued to fuel concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government may invade after its annexation of Crimea.

Currencies Slide

Escalating tensions further, Russia detained 25 Ukrainians suspected of plotting terrorist attacks on its territory, and Ukraine accused Russian forces of playing a role in violence during anti-government protests that cost more than 100 lives. A Russian security forces statement cited by the state-run RIA Novosti newswire didn’t say where the detentions took place.

The ruble, which has weakened 7.4 percent against the dollar in 2014, fell for a third day, trading 0.1 percent lower at 35.52 as of 11:10 a.m. in Moscow. The hryvnia, this year’s worst performer against the dollar among more than 150 currencies tracked by Bloomberg with a 28.4 percent decline, lost 0.4 percent to 11.5.

Obama yesterday signed a measure approved by Congress authorizing assistance to Ukraine and codifying sanctions previously announced by the White House on Russian individuals responsible for violence or undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty. The European Union has imposed sanctions including visa bans.

The U.S. “continues to lead a coordinated international effort to support Ukraine and isolate Russia for its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a statement issued by the White House.

Sanctions Tool

In an interview with the U.K.’s BBC Television aired early this morning, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the U.S. and Europe “can do more,” calling financial and economic sanctions the “key tool” in deterring Russia.

Along with the economic penalties, NATO has stepped up an air-policing mission over the Baltic states and dispatched AWACS surveillance planes over Poland and Romania. The U.S. sent more F-16 fighter jets to Poland and joined Romania and Bulgaria in naval exercises in the Black Sea.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said other security-related options under consideration include permanently stationing a third Army brigade of 5,000 American troops in Europe. He said in an interview yesterday in Honolulu with Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Television that the U.S. and its NATO partners are seeing no evidence that Russia is pulling back its troops from the Ukrainian border.

‘Baseless Interpretation’

In Moscow, Lavrov said NATO breached the principles of a 1997 accord that established formal ties between the former Cold War adversaries. At the time, NATO vowed to defend itself by “reinforcement” and with no new “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.”

Rasmussen called Lavrov’s view a “baseless interpretation” of the 1997 document. The text also tied NATO’s commitment to “the current and foreseeable security environment,” something altered by Russia’s attack on Georgia in 2008 and the takeover of Crimea last month.

“In the same document, Russia pledged to respect the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of other states and refrain from the threat or use of force,” Rasmussen said. “And that’s exactly what Russia is not doing.”

While acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov has said Russian aggression is pushing Ukraine toward affiliation with NATO, Yatsenyuk told the BBC that membership “is not on our radar.” NATO has expanded since 1999 to include some former Soviet satellite states. Four members -- Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania -- border Ukraine. Five also border Russia - - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Poland.

Economic Squeeze

As well as the military threat, Russia is intensifying an economic squeeze on its neighbor, announcing yesterday that it will charge Ukraine a quarter more for natural gas.

Ukraine’s energy costs had already jumped 44 percent this month after a discount from Russia expired. Russia’s state-run OAO Gazprom said yesterday that state-owned NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy owes more than $2.2 billion for gas and must take steps immediately to repay its debt while adding more fuel to storage to ensure uninterrupted transit to Europe.

European shipments were disrupted at least twice since 2006 when Russia cut Ukraine’s supplies during price disputes. Ukraine relies on Gazprom for half its gas, while carrying about 15 percent of Europe’s demand through its pipelines from Russia, making it a linchpin in the continent’s energy security.