Ukraine crisis brings Brende home

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Foreign Minister Børge Brende cut short a trip to the US and Mexico on Sunday after violence broke out again in eastern Ukraine and Russian troops continued to pose a threat along the border. “Developments in East Ukraine the past day are very disturbing,” Brende said on Sunday evening.

Foreign Minister Børge Brende, shown here at NATO's headquarters earlier this month, says he's deeply worried by the unrest in Ukraine and Russia's threatening presence along the border. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Foreign Minister Børge Brende, shown here at NATO’s headquarters earlier this month, says he’s deeply worried by the unrest in Ukraine and Russia’s threatening presence along the border. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Brende has been in Washington DC and was scheduled to travel on to Houston and Mexico this week. Instead he’s flying back to Oslo to take part in meetings on the Ukraine crisis and the threats posed by Russian troops.

Fears have also risen in recent days in the Baltic countries, especially Latvia, where Russian-speaking groups are demanding more rights like they are in Ukraine. European leaders worry Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the unrest as an excuse to intervene as he did in Crimea.

As a new sort of Cold War seemed to settle over the area, Brende continued to claim that Russia is ignoring the territorial rights of countries that haven’t been formally under the control of Moscow since the Soviet Union broke up more than 20 years ago. Putin, however, seems intent on recreating a new form of a union by force and seizing control again over areas lost to Moscow in the early 1990s.

On Sunday, violence broke out in eastern Ukraine after Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine occupied public buildings and refused to leave. “It’s deeply unfortunate that there once again are fatalities as a result of the political conflict in the country,” Brende said.

‘Coordinated and professional operations’
Norway’s foreign ministry described the building occupations as appearing to be “coordinated and professional operations.” Brende warned that whoever “is behind and has carried out these operations bears a heavy responsibility” for the victims on Sunday.

Brende also claimed that Russia’s military concentration along Ukraine’s eastern border “destabilizes the situation further. I repeat Norway’s strong support for Ukraine’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia must withdraw its forces from Ukraine’s borders and cease all other operations that seek to destabilize Ukraine.”

Meetings were planned this week among Ukraine, the US, the EU and Russia. “I hope the meeting is held as planned and that also Russia will take a responsible role at the meeting,” Brende said.

NATO, meanwhile, has been sending assistance and air patrols to its Baltic members to bolsters their borders against Russia. Norway also shares a border in the far north with Russia, and has experienced more Russian fighter jet activity along the coast.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund