NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday the alliance did not want a return to Cold War hostilities with Russia while expressing support for the U.K.’s strong stance on the March 4 nerve agent attack in Salisbury.
He said the targeting of former double agent Sergei Skripal fits a “pattern of reckless behaviour” to which the military alliance had responded, but insisted political dialogue must also continue.
“We don’t want a new Cold War, we don’t want a new arms race, Russia is our neighbour therefore we have to continue to strive for an improved better relationship with Russia,” he told BBC radio.
He noted that NATO allies have in recent years imposed economic sanctions on Russia and deployed more troops in eastern Europe in response to the “changed security situation.”
But he stressed: “To isolate Russia is not an alternative.”
He added: “At some point Russia will understand that it is in its interests not to confront us but to cooperate with us, and we are ready to do so if they respect some basic norms and rules for international behaviour.”
U.K. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson in December described British relations with Russia as a “cool war but one where Russia is incredibly active in trying to do damage to British interests.”
Asked on Thursday they were entering a “new Cold War”, Williamson said: “It is often described as a cool war that we are entering into. I would say it’s feeling exceptionally chilly at the moment.”
NATO has backed the U.K. response to the March 4 attack in the southwestern English city of Salisbury, which left Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a critical condition.
“We have no reason to doubt the findings and assessments made by the British government, not least because this takes place at the backdrop of a pattern of reckless behaviour by Russia over many years,” Stoltenberg said.
Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has questioned whether the Russian state was responsible for the attack, warned Friday against a “drift to conflict”.
Writing in The Guardian, he said “a connection to Russian mafia-like groups that have been allowed to gain a toehold in Britain cannot be excluded”.
“To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security,” he said.
Corbyn’s views have in the past drawn criticism from his own MPs, and several among them have defied him to back the Conservative government’s position. By Friday morning, 33 Labour MPs had signed a parliamentary motion blaming the Russian state “unequivocally”.
Corbyn wrote that Labour was “no supporter of the Putin regime”, but added: “That does not mean we should resign ourselves to a ‘new Cold War’ of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent.”
With reporting from AFP