Munich Security Confab Frenzy

From February 17 to 19, Munich hosted some of the most important decision-makers in the realm of international security policy
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and the United States Vice President Mike Pence attend the security conference  in Munich, Germany, Feb. 18.German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and the United States Vice President Mike Pence attend the security conference  in Munich, Germany, Feb. 18.
A truce between Russia-backed separatists and the Ukrainian Army came into force on Monday in eastern Ukraine, according to Russia’s foreign minister

Russia’s foreign minister has called for an end to an outdated world order dominated by the West, even as US Vice President Mike Pence has pledged his country’s “unwavering” commitment to its transatlantic allies in NATO.

Sergey Lavrov’s comments at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday came just hours after Pence promised to stand with Europe to rein in a resurgent Russia and “hold Russia accountable”, Aljazeera reported.

Lavrov, offering pragmatic ties with the United States, said, “I hope that [the world] will choose a democratic world order—a post-West one—in which each country is defined by its sovereignty. The time when the West called the shots was over while NATO was a relic of the Cold War.”

In its place, Russia wanted a relationship with the US that is “pragmatic with mutual respect and acknowledgement of our common responsibility for global stability”.

Lavrov said the two countries had never been in direct conflict and that they were close neighbors across the Bering Straits.

  Growing Heat

Russia has been impatiently waiting for US President Donald Trump to make good on his pledge to improve ties, which fell to a post-Cold War low as his predecessor, Barack Obama, declared sanctions over the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election.

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and voiced his willingness to work with him in fighting “terrorism”.

But in the face of growing heat over its links to Russia, Trump’s administration appears to be backing off the warmer words used earlier for the country.

Exasperated and worried by Trump’s calling into question longstanding foreign policy assumptions, European leaders have urged the US not to take transatlantic ties for granted.

On a European road show this week, Trump’s lieutenants have sought to reassure jittery allies that the administration will hold fast to existing foreign policies, including maintaining sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Hours before Lavrov addressed the conference, Pence told the same forum that the US will stay loyal to its old friends.

“The United States is and will always be your greatest ally. Be assured that President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union,” Pence said, adding that America strongly “supports NATO”.

“Let no one doubt our commitment,” he said.

Aljazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Munich, said, “The warmth of words he used regarding NATO as a bedrock of security in Europe was warmly received here, by delegates, but not when he mentioned the need for NATO countries member states to boost the amount of their GDP spent on defense expenditure ... that causes some concern.”

“The US would also not relent in pushing Russia to honor the Minsk ceasefire accords with Ukraine,” Pence said.

“The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found.”

At NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, James Mattis, defense secretary, said Russia must first “prove itself” and respect international law before there could be any improvement in relations strained by Russia’s Ukraine intervention and annexation of Crimea.

  Ukraine Truce Renewed

A truce between Russia-backed separatists and the Ukrainian Army will come into force on Monday in eastern Ukraine, according to Russia’s foreign minister.

The deal was brokered on Saturday at the Munich security conference with the participation of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.

“It is positive that the contact group [of foreign ministers of the four countries] agreed once again for the start of a ceasefire on February 20,” Lavrov said.

The agreement also concerns “the start of the withdrawal of heavy arms” in eastern Ukraine.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, French foreign minister, said neither Russia nor Ukraine had offered any alternatives to the Minsk process.

The news of the deal overshadowed a major development announced in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian authorities on Saturday to temporarily recognize civil registration documents issued in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine, indirectly recognizing the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The move will enable people from the conflict-hit region to travel, work or study in Russia.

The new legislation will be in place until a “political settlement of the situation” in these regions based on the Minsk peace accords, the Kremlin said.

Ukrainian authorities sharply criticized Putin’s decision, saying Russia had violated the Minsk peace process.

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