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13 Feb, 2016 08:57

Russia-NATO relations have fallen to new Cold War level – Russian PM

The relationships between NATO and Russia have slid down toward a new Cold War, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at a panel discussion during the Munich Security Conference, describing NATO's policy as "unfriendly and not transparent."

"Almost every day we are referred to as the most terrible threat to NATO as a whole or to Europe, America and other countries specifically," Medvedev said. "Although actual threats that exist in our small world - and I hope, you understand that - are absolutely different."

Earlier in the day, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated plans for massive military build-up on its eastern flank – the largest since the Cold War – to counter "Russia's actions." He added that relations with Russia would be based upon "defense and dialogue."

Terrorists are gaining influence and benefiting from Russian-Western discord, Medvedev told the gathering. "Terrorism is a challenge to the whole of civilization: we must not divide terrorists into friends, enemies, extremists or 'moderates,’" he said.

"I think Daesh [Arabic acronym for IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] has to be grateful to my colleagues, some Western leaders who disabled such cooperation [between intelligence services]," Medvedev said. The PM cited cases such as the bombing of the Russian airliner over Sinai, the terror attacks in Paris, London, Israel, Pakistan, Iraq and many other countries, as well as public beheadings and brutal acts of violence, as clear evidence that international terrorism respects no borders.

Addressing Russia’s anti-IS deployment, Medvedev said the air operation is not targeting civilians. "No one has yet presented any evidence of our air strikes hitting the civilian population."

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who took the floor before Medvedev's address, urged Moscow to cease its anti-IS operation, claiming it was crucial to achieve peace in Syria. "France respects Russia and its interests ... But we know that to find the path to peace again, the Russian bombing of civilians has to stop."

The Russian PM called on his Western counterparts "not to threaten a ground operation" in Syria, stressing that Moscow is doing its utmost to pave the way for a lasting peace in the war-torn country.

"It is important to save a united Syrian state, preventing it from falling apart into religion-based [fragments]. The world can't afford another Libya, Yemen or Afghanistan. The outcomes of such a scenario would be disastrous for the entire Middle East," Medvedev said.

Only viable cooperation between Russia and the US can resolve the situation in Syria, Medvedev said. "I want to emphasize that regular cooperation between Russia and the United States will be crucial. And I mean regular – every day."

Threat of Schengen zone collapse

The ongoing Syrian conflict has resulted in the refugee crisis that is threatening border-free travel within the European Union and is near a "humanitarian disaster" in scale in some European countries, the Russian PM warned.

The unprecedented crisis unfolded because of the West's "unsuccessful attempts to implant 'Western-style’ models of democracy into an unprepared social environment," Medvedev said, adding that it had had a blowback effect on Europe itself.

"Regrettably, we are witnessing the weakening of certain mechanisms that Russia needs as well,” Medvedev said.

“I mean a threat that the Schengen zone might collapse. On our side, we are ready to help ease the migration challenges, including taking part in the normalization of the situation in the conflict zones where most refugees come from."

The Russian PM said that the influx of refugees and migrants is causing societal problems, leading to mutual intolerance as well as xenophobia, which sometimes turns into violence, while "thousands of extremists" are pouring into European countries as refugees.

The migration challenge evolving from terror threats and regional conflicts has also had an impact on Russia, not just Europe, Medvedev said.

"Taking refugees from Ukraine was a striking challenge for us, as compared to a relatively small migration flow from Syria. We have taken in more than 1 million [Ukrainian] refugees in one and a half years."