Russia and the West are facing a "new Cold War," Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Saturday, even as Washington's top diplomat said crippling sanctions against Moscow will remain until full implementation of a ceasefire in Ukraine.
"We have slipped into a period of a new Cold War," Medvedev said at the Munich Security Conference, a meeting of diplomats and defence officials that centred Saturday on the foreign policy of Russia.
"NATO's political course remains unfriendly and closed towards Russia. ... We are declared almost daily the most menacing threat for NATO as a whole or separately for Europe or for America," Medvedev said in reference to NATO's decision earlier this week to increase its presence in the Black Sea, which borders Russia.
He said that Russia and the West faced "real threats" in the form of terrorism and extremism, and that the international community urgently needed to work together to counter these.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier responded to Medvedev’s comments by saying that it was in no way appropriate to refer to the current geopolitical situation as a new Cold War.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, reinforced the stance of his prime minister, saying that "NATO and the European Union are refusing to fully cooperate with Russia. They consider us their enemy.”
Russia's relations with the West have nosedived in the last two years amid Western concerns over Russia's foreign policy and growing autocracy at home.
In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine's southern peninsula of Crimea - the site of a strategic Russian naval base on the Black Sea - and has been accused of military involvement in secessionist movements in that country's east.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that debilitating sanctions against Russian state companies and banks would remain in place as long as there were ceasefire violations in Ukraine's two eastern regions.
"Russia has a simple choice: fully implement [the ceasefire] or continue to face economically damaging sanctions," Kerry said, adding that sanctions relief would only come after full weapons withdrawal, the release of Ukrainian hostages, full humanitarian access and support for elections in eastern regions.
"Put plainly, Russia can prove by its actions that it will respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, just as it insists on respect for its own," Kerry said.
Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that it has contributed troops and weapons to the Ukraine conflict. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted that some Russian personnel are assisting the separatists.
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