EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini (photo: twitter)
NATO countries bordering Russia need reassurance that they will be defended by the alliance in the face of the spiraling Ukraine war, incoming EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday.
Russia was also no longer a "strategic partner" for the European Union, added the Italian foreign minister, as she took questions from members of the European Parliament following her nomination to the EU post on Saturday.
Mogherini, who takes office in November, was trying to reassure eastern European Union countries that had feared she may be too soft on Russia, which has allegedly sent troops in support of rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Addressing concerns whether she was "pro-Russia or anti-Russia," Mogherini said the "real point" is how Europe supports the democratic process in Kiev, as well as a political rather than a military solution for the war in eastern Ukraine.
Mogherini then reached out to eastern members of NATO -- which include Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- that are worried by an increasingly assertive Russia over Moscow's alleged military intervention in non-NATO Ukraine, AFP reports.
"All those countries in the alliance that share a border with Russia need to be sure that article five is not just a written text, (that) there are some measures that can be taken to ensure their security," Mogherini said.
Article five of NATO's Washington treaty calls for the alliance to come to the collective defense of any one member if it comes under attack, the AFP news agency points out.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said ahead of the Western military alliance's two-day summit in Wales that opens on Thursday that the growing Russian threat meant the Cold War-era bloc must create a bigger presence in Eastern Europe.
Mogherini said she agreed with German President Joachim Gauck who said Russia had "effectively severed its partnership" with Europe and wanted to establish a new order.
"The situation now is that a strategic partnership is over, clearly it's over. That was a choice of Moscow first of all," she said. "I think Russia stays a strategic player in the regional and global challenges, like it or not -- but I don't think it is a strategic partner anymore."
She added that she hoped Russia would "choose to go back to be a strategic partner in the future, but it's not happening now."
Mogherini said she was speaking to the parliament's foreign affairs committee as Italian foreign minister and outlining Italy's foreign policy priorities for its current presidency of the European Union.
Mogherini is due to assume her role as head of the European Union's diplomatic service after European leaders appointed her to the job at a summit on Saturday. She will replace Britain's Catherine Ashton.