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NATO Chief: Not Seeking Cold War With Russia, But Will Defend Allies

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a presentation of the NATO annual report at NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 15.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a presentation of the NATO annual report at NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 15.

BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the West is not looking to start a new Cold War or an arms race with Russia, but he reiterated that the military alliance will defend “all allies against any threat.”

“We do not want a new Cold War,” Stoltenberg told reporters as he presented NATO's annual report on March 15. “And we do not want to be dragged into a new arms race.... It is expensive, it is risky, it is in nobody’s interest.

"But let there be no doubt. NATO will defend all allies against any threat,” he added.

His comments come as tensions between the West and Russia surge to new heights in the face of allegations that Moscow was behind a nerve-agent attack against a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury.

Britain says the chemical used in the attempted murder was identified as part of a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military known as Novichok.

The leaders of France, Germany, the United States, and Britain on March 15 issued a statement saying that Russian responsibility is the "only plausible explanation" for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The statement called the attack an assault on British sovereignty and "a breach of international law."

The NATO chief said alliance officials had been briefed by British national security leaders and “we have no reason to doubt the findings and the assessment made by the United Kingdom.”

Stoltenberg said that Britain could count on "NATO’s solidarity,” although he added that the country has not sought to activate NATO’s mutual-defense clause, Article 5, which requires all members to come to the aid of any other member under attack.

“All allies agree that the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements. This is unacceptable. It has no place in a civilized world," he said.

He added that the North Atlantic Council addressed ‘this horrific incident” and that the allies called on Russia to answer Britain’s questions.

Stoltenberg said the Salisbury attack has taken place against the backdrop of a “reckless pattern" of Russian behavior, citing "the illegal annexation of Crimea and military support to separatists in eastern Ukraine” and the Russian “military presence in Moldova and Georgia against these countries’ will.”

He also referred to “meddling” in Montenegro and elsewhere in the Western Balkans and attempts to “subvert democratic elections and institutions.”

The NATO chief also spoke of Moscow’s general military buildup “from the north of Europe to the Middle East."

“Russia has been modernizing its armed forces over the last decade...developing new weapons, including with nuclear capabilities,” he said.

Stoltenberg said NATO will continue to develop strong defensive capabilities, even as it presses for global arms control.

“We will maintain strong conventional forces, as well as a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. At the same time, we will continue to strive for effective arms control,” he said.

Meanwhile, Stoltenberg said he expects that the NATO summit scheduled for July will recognize Georgia for the progress it has made with its reform efforts and for its contributions to NATO operations, particularly in Afghanistan.

At a 2008 summit in Bucharest, NATO agreed that Georgia and Ukraine will both eventually become NATO members but no firm date has been set, although the membership perspective for the two countries has been reconfirmed at every summit ever since.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels