UKRAINE

Nato chief accuses Russia of violating Ukraine sovereignty, urges end to incursion

Russia blatantly violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, says Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 August, 2014, 7:24pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 5:33pm

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday called on Russia to halt its “illegal” military actions in Ukraine, after the West accused Moscow of direct involvement in the conflict.

“We condemn in the strongest terms Russia’s continued disregard of its international obligations,” Rasmussen said after an emergency Nato meeting on the crisis.

“We urge Russia to cease its illegal military actions, stop its support to armed separatists, and take immediate and verifiable steps towards de-escalation of this grave crisis.”

Nato on Thursday said Russia had sent at least 1,000 troops to fight with pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine, along with air defence systems, artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles, and had massed 20,000 troops near the border.

Rasmussen also said that Nato was not closing the door to Ukraine’s possible membership after Kiev said it was seeking to join the alliance, a move certain to anger its former masters in Moscow.

Ukraine said on Friday it would seek the protection of Nato membership after what Kiev and its Western allies say is the open participation of the Russian military in the war in Ukraine’s eastern provinces.

Formal Ukrainian membership in the Western military alliance – which would come with the full protection of a mutual defence pact with the US superpower – remains an unlikely prospect, at least in the near future.

But by announcing that it is seeking it, Kiev is taking its most decisive step yet to pursue Western military protection from what it now describes as an invasion by its neighbour.

Nato’s secretary general said he respected Ukraine’s right to seek membership, and accused Russia of blatantly and illegally intervening in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow denies its forces are fighting to support pro-Russian rebels who have declared independence in eastern Ukraine, but the rebels have all but confirmed it, saying thousands of Russian troops have fought on their behalf while “on leave”.

The arrival of what Western governments say are armoured columns of Russian troops on a new front in recent days has tipped the balance towards the rebels after weeks in which Ukrainian forces appeared to be gaining the upper hand.

Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told a government meeting on Friday the cabinet would “bring before parliament a law to scrap the non-aligned status of the Ukrainian state and establish a course towards membership of Nato.”

Were Nato to contemplate extending its mutual defence pact to Ukraine, it would be the biggest change in the security architecture of Europe since the 1990s.

After the cold war, Nato defied Russian objections and expanded to grant its security guarantees to former Communist countries like Poland, Hungary and Romania. But it largely stopped at the border of the former Soviet Union, admitting only the three tiny Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Nato denied Ukraine a fast track towards membership in 2008 when a previous pro-European government in Kiev tried to pursue closer ties with the alliance.