By ALISON SMALE
LONDON — Tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats. Russian naval ships showing up as world leaders meet in Australia. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany telling Russia sternly to play by 21st-century rules — and President Vladimir V. Putin practically spitting fury over Western reaction to his annexation of Crimea.
As relations between Russia and the West increasingly resemble the bygone days of the Cold War, Ms. Merkel abandoned her traditionally cautious tone on Monday, castigating Russia for its actions inUkraine, for intimidating sovereign states in Eastern Europe and for threatening to spread conflict more broadly across Europe.
“The Ukraine crisis is most likely not just a regional problem,” Ms. Merkel said in a speech at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia. “In this case, we see it affects us all.”
“Who would’ve thought,” she said, “that 25 years after the fall of the wall, after the end of the Cold War, after the end of the division of Europe and the end of the world being divided in two, something like that can happen right at heart of Europe?”
Ms. Merkel’s speech followed a meeting of the Group of 20 leaders in Brisbane, Australia, where the souring relations were on full display as Western leaders pressed Mr. Putin on Russia’s Crimea policy and support for Ukrainian separatists — and the Russian leader slipped out early, insisting he had business to attend to back home.
President Obama said his meeting with Russia’s leader at the summit meeting was “businesslike and blunt.” Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, who in the days leading up to Brisbane had likened Mr. Putin’s actions to those of Nazi Germany, told the Russian president that he was at a fork in the road over Ukraine. Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada told Mr. Putin, “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: ‘You need to get out of Ukraine.’ ”
As the meeting wound up, Russia expelled multiple diplomats afterGermany, Poland and Lithuania apparently took similar actions against Russian envoys accused of spying. Sweden, which for days recently was transfixed by the appearance off its coast of what appeared to be a Russian submarine, has also said Russia increased its spying this year.
(NATO Reports Increased Russian Troop Movement
More than two months into a shaky cease-fire, NATO reported significant new Russian troop movements into Ukraine. NATO’s top military commander said that convoys of tanks, artillery and combat troops were streaming over the border, in what appeared to be preparations for renewed military action.)
But the real surprise was the tone taken by Ms. Merkel in her speech after the summit meeting. In recent weeks, the chancellor has made it clear she sees that “Putin is testing us,” as she told parliamentary deputies. In a discussion at the university, she developed that thought further, asking whether Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and military and political interference in eastern Ukraine meant a return to the times when Moscow decided the fate of its near neighbors.
Ms. Merkel seemed to acknowledge that the West should consider Russian sensitivities to Ukraine — with long, close ties to Russia — joining NATO. But she said that was not the case with Ukraine drawing closer to the European Union, which sparked the long-running unrest and conflict with Russia.
In such a case, “it cannot be that you forbid a country to act, or that it cannot itself decide freely,” she said. “Otherwise, we have to say: ‘We’re so weak, pay attention, people, we can’t take any more members — we’ll just ask in Moscow whether it’s possible.’ That was how it was for 40 years, or longer, and I really was not wanting to go back there.”
“And it is not just a case of Ukraine,” Ms. Merkel continued. “It concerns Moldova, it concerns Georgia. If things go on like this, one can ask: Should we ask about Serbia? Should we ask about the western Balkans? That is certainly incompatible with our values.”
In an interview that was broadcast on Germany’s most watched television talk show Sunday evening, Mr. Putin was equally stinging.
Interviewed by a German journalist who has long had good access to the Russian leader, he pursed his lips and angrily clipped his words as he said the West had “reacted absolutely inappropriately” over Ukraine.
Striking a now familiar line of defense, Mr. Putin cited international law as applied to the independence of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo from Serbia, and declared his actions as more democratic. Kosovo’s independence came only through a parliamentary vote, he said, whereas in Crimea the population voted in March to join Russia — which by then had already secured control through deployment of its elite troops in unmarked uniforms….
But the fourth element in Ms. Merkel’s description of Western reaction to Ukraine was crucial: to refrain from military action against Russia, which, she noted, would almost certainly not be limited to the region. That perhaps is the strongest Cold War echo of all — the idea that a confrontation in one area would lead to a much bigger conflict.
Germans have been reflecting on this all this extraordinary year — which contains the momentous anniversaries of World Wars I and II, as well as of the Cold War’s ending, and shows how conflicts can flare out of control.
“And suddenly we are confronted with a conflict which goes to the center of our values, so to speak,” Ms. Merkel said. “Now we can’t hold speeches at commemorations. Now we have to show what we have learned from all this.”