John Baird: NATO considering Ukraine as alliance cuts ties with Russia
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird stands in the House of Commons during question period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, March 28, 2014. (Fred Chartrand/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, April 1, 2014 6:12PM EDT
OTTAWA -- NATO's decision Tuesday to end civilian and military co-operation with Russia 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 if 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 a series of 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.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the ministers agreed unanimously on a number of points, including possible redeployment of military assets in eastern NATO nations like 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 minister's meeting. He said the current crisis has implications for other countries in the region.
Analysts have said that 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."
Baird also met Tuesday with his Polish counterpart, Radosaw Sikorski.
As for Ukraine's possible membership in NATO, he said it would be premature to discuss, given that the country is to hold elections next month.
In fact, 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."
During a session at NATO, Baird affirmed the alliance's "Open Door Policy" which encourages countries with aspirations to join it on its "Euro-Atlantic path."
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."