OSLO (Reuters) - The West must be ready for a long standoff with Russia over Ukraine and not quickly resume normal ties as it did after the 2008 Georgian war, a top NATO official said on Monday.
“Our strategy has to be one of patience and consistency. Russia expects us to give up the sanctions and go back to business as usual, without changing its own conduct,” Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said in a speech to the Leangkollen foreign policy conference in Oslo.
“That is basically what we did after the war in Georgia in 2008. But this time around, having chosen our course, we must stick to it,” Vershbow, NATO’s number two civilian official and a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, said.
Russia and Georgia fought a war in 2008 over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The war severely damaged relations between Moscow and the West, but drew no direct sanctions, and the European Union and NATO quickly went back to business as usual with Moscow.
Just three months after the Georgian war, the EU relaunched talks with Russia on a partnership pact, and seven months after the war NATO resumed formal ties with Moscow.
Vershbow said NATO did not seek confrontation with Russia and was not looking for regime change.
“What we do want is for Moscow to change its behaviour ... and to return to the spirit of cooperation ... This may be a long time coming, and will call for strategic patience, but I don’t think we have any alternative,” he said.
Following Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region last March and what NATO says is the direct involvement of Russian troops in supporting separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, the West’s response has been tougher.
The EU and the United States have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, and NATO has suspended all practical cooperation with Moscow.
Vershbow said Russia has appeared determined to detach itself from Europe since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, to assert itself in its own neighbourhood, and to seek to build alternative groupings to the West.
With frequent snap military exercises, like one currently under way in the Kaliningrad region, Moscow seemed determined to “surprise, shock and intimidate,” he said.
Writing by Adrian Croft; Editing by Liisa Tuhkanen and Hugh Lawson