Munich / AFP
The world has plunged into a â€œnew Cold Warâ€, the Russian premier said on Saturday, as East-West tensions over Ukraine and Syria took centre-stage at a gathering of world leaders in Germany.
â€œWe have slid into a new period of Cold War,â€ Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told the audience at the Munich Security Conference.
â€œAlmost every day we are accused of making new horrible threats either against NATO as a whole, against Europe or against the US or other countries,â€ Medvedev added.
It did not take long for those accusations to resurface in Munich, as a group of leaders from eastern Europe took the stage tocriticise Russiaâ€™s assertive foreign policy.
â€œEvery single day, Russian troops, Russian weapons, Russian ammunition penetrate into my country,â€ said Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko.
He addressed Russiaâ€™s president, who was not present, saying: â€œMr Putin, this is not a civil war in Ukraine, this is your aggression. This is not a civil war in Crimea, this is your soldiers who occupied my country. This is not a civil war in Syria, this is your planes bombing the civilian population.â€
Poroshenko warned that â€œpro-Russian partiesâ€ were undermining Europe from within with an alternative set of values.
â€œIsolationism, intolerance, disrespect of human rights, religious fanatics, homophobiaâ€”this alternative Europe has a leader. His name is Mr Putin.â€
By contrast, Medvedev had earlier criticised the expansion of NATO and EU influence deep into formerly Soviet-ruled eastern Europe, which Russia still sees as its sphere of
â€œEuropean politicians thought that creating a so-called belt of friends at Europeâ€™s side, on the outskirts of the EU, could be a guarantee of security, and whatâ€™s the result?â€ he said. â€œNot a belt of friends but a belt of exclusion.â€
But Medvedev also struck a more positive note, saying: â€œOur positions differ, but they do not differ as much as 40 years ago when a wall was standing in Europe.â€
He urged more dialogue, citing the â€œshining exampleâ€ of the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill in Cuba on Friday.
He also called for greater military cooperation in Syria, where Russia is backing a regime that the West wants to see removed from power.
The US and Russian militaries â€œshould be in contact 10 times a day,â€ he said.
â€˜Coercion and intimidationâ€™
NATO general secretary Jens Stoltenberg also addressed the forum, vowing a firm stance against Russia while also boosting dialogue.
â€œWe have seen a more assertive Russia, a Russia which is destabilising the European security order,â€ he said. â€œNATO does not seek confrontation and we donâ€™t want a new Cold War. At the same time our response has to be firm.â€
NATO was now â€œundertaking the biggest reinforcement to our collective defence in decades, to send a powerful signal to deter any aggression or intimidation. Not to wage war, but to prevent war.â€
Earlier this week, Stoltenberg announced that plans had been approved for an increased NATO presence in eastern Europeâ€”which sources said would involve between 3,000 and 6,000 troops rotating through the region.
â€œRussiaâ€™s rhetoric, posture and exercises of its nuclear forces are aimed at intimidating its neighbours, undermining trust and stability in Europe,â€ Stoltenberg said in Munich.
The NATO chief said that â€œsome are concerned that we are sleepwalking toward escalation with Russia… I understand those concerns but I do not share them.â€