Baird says NATO considering Ukraine options

Members of the 28-country alliance cut ties with Russia

OTTAWA – NATO’s decision to end civilian and military co-operation with Russia on Tuesday is just one step in a long journey to end the Ukraine crisis, says Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

“This is exactly what Canada did weeks ago. It’s not going to be business as usual so we’re suspending all civilian and military co-operation with the Russian Federation,” Baird told The Canadian Press from Brussels.

Asked whether NATO has been too slow to respond, Baird said: “It’s the first minister’s meeting we’ve had since the crisis came about.”

Baird said NATO will consider options to counter Russia’s unilateral annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The minister said capacity building, tactical support and beefing up assets are among them.

“We’ve got a whole range of options that we’re taking. Obviously, we want to stand in solidarity with our NATO allies, and beef up tactical support, co-operation and efforts,” Baird said.

“There’s no one action which is going to get the change we want. This is just one more step in a long journey to say that it’s unacceptable that in 2014 one man in the Kremlin can try to rewrite the boundaries of Europe.”

Baird met behind closed doors Tuesday with his counterparts in the 28-member alliance, which is facing its most serious crisis in recent years.

Secretary of State John Kerry says the ministers agreed unanimously on a number of points, including possible redeployment of military assets in eastern NATO countries such as Poland and the Baltic states.

Baird wouldn’t comment specifically on possible NATO troop options, except to say the alliance’s military exercises — which Russia often finds provocative — would continue.

In recent days, Baird visited NATO-member Romania and Ukraine’s neighbour Moldova as a deliberate show of solidarity prior to Tuesday’s foreign ministers meeting. He said the current crisis has implications for other countries in the region.

Analysts have said Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, which borders Ukraine, may be next target of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We’ve got a number of crises. We’ve got the problem, the occupation, the illegal annexation of Crimea. We’ve got the troop build-up on Eastern Ukraine, concerns about Odessa, concerns about Moldova, concerns about Georgia and more broadly concerned about NATO proper,” said Baird.

“We think a strong response is necessary.”

Baird said NATO has been “a spectacularly successful alliance” and lauded its collective defence provision.

“Article 5 is the cornerstone of the alliance,” he said.

“Today countries like Romania, Poland and the Baltic republics are pretty glad they’re in NATO.”

As for Ukraine’s possible membership in NATO, Baird said that is premature to discuss given that the country is to hold elections next month.

Baird said he did not discuss Ukraine’s possible NATO candidacy with its new temporary government during his recent visit to Kyiv.

“Today, Ukraine is not a candidate country. You can’t make someone a member of a club, an organization, if they haven’t requested,” Baird said.

“That will be a decision for the people of Ukraine and their elected government.”

He said Ukraine’s exiled president Viktor Yanukovych shut down his country’s NATO membership bid.

“NATO has had a relationship with Ukraine. What goes on there matters to us.”

Baird suggested Canada will be sending at least 500 election observers to next month’s elections.

“We’re going to be very supportive. Last year, we sent 500 observers. We’re going to want to play an equally strong role in helping the Ukrainian people cast their ballots in a free and fair election,” he said.

“If anything we’re more engaged with Ukraine, not less.”