NATO chief asks Russia to pull back troops

Rasmussen tells Kremlin to stop backing rebels in eastern Ukraine as NATO leaders meet in UK amid calls for ceasefire.

NATO Secretary General has told the Kremlin to pull back Russian troops from Ukraine and to stop supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine, as leaders from the trans-atlantic military alliance meet in the UK.

“We call on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine and to stop the flow of arms, fighters and funds to the separatists,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday at the NATO summit near the Welsh city of Newport.

We call on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine and to stop the flow of arms, fighters and funds to the separatists

by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief

The NATO chief asked “Russia to end its illegal and self-declared annexation of Crimea”.

But Rasmussen said that NATO would not supply arms to Ukraine, saying it was up to individual members to decide whether to supply arms to the conflict-wracked country.

Earlier, the White House said that key NATO leaders had agreed during the meeting that Russia should face increased sanctions for its actions in eastern Ukraine.

“The leaders reiterated their condemnation of Russia’s continued flagrant vioaltion of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and agreed on the need for Russia to face increased costs for its actions,” the statement on Wednesday said.

NATO leaders, including US President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande, earlier met President Poroshenko on the sidelines of the summit described as the most important since the end of the Cold War.

Poroshenko and Western leaders are to hold a session of the NATO-Ukraine Council, set up after the country became an alliance partner in 1997, the AFP news agency reported.

Rasmussen said that the “meeting sends a clear message that NATO stands with Ukraine”.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Newport, said that Rasmussen’s language sends a very strong message to Moscow. “It is clear, according to NATO, that Russian forces are heavily engaged in Ukraine,” our correspondent said.

Peace deal

Meanwhile, statements from Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists gave indications that the warring sides might sign a deal to end four months of fighting that the UN estimates has killed nearly 2,600 people.

Ukrainian president said he was ready to order a ceasefire in the east on Friday if a peace deal was signed at talks in Minsk, the Belarusian capital. The rebels said they were ready to declare a truce but demanded “proper guarantees” from Kiev.

“There wll be no ceasefire without guarantees because in the past we had some ceasefire agreements Poroshenko didn’t honour,” said rebel leader Oleg Tsaryov.

Poroshenko had discussed the outlines of the deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. Putin had unveiled a seven-point peace plan.

A statement by the Russian foreign ministery said that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius “voiced hope” the ceasefire proposed by President Putin would help bring the sides together at talks.

Earlier, Lavrov said that reports of Ukraine seeking to join NATO were “a blatant attempt to derail all the efforts” to seek a peaceful solution.

Amid the ceasefire talks, a woman has been killed in new shelling of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, according to Reuters.

At least five buildings had been hit, including a church, and their windows had been blown out. Walls had been strafed by shrapnel. Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe rights and security group were surveying the scene.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies