Russia still arming Ukraine rebels despite truce: NATO chief
YAVORIV – Agence France-Presse
AP photoRussia is still sending weapons to separatist rebels battling the Ukrainian government despite a fresh truce in the war-torn east of the country, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Sept. 22.
“The ceasefire is mainly holding. This is, of course, encouraging because that was not the case before,” Stoltenberg said on the first day of his visit to Ukraine.
“But the situation is very fragile,” he said at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a military base in western Ukraine.
“Russia continues to support the separatists, provide them with weapons, with different kinds of equipment, training, forces.”
Kiev and the West insist that Moscow has sent troops and arms across the border to fuel a separatist conflict that has claimed almost 8,000 lives since April 2014, allegations Moscow vehemently denies.
Fighting has dropped to nearly its lowest level since the conflict began after a fresh ceasefire deal was agreed on September 1 following a series of failed truces.
Stoltenberg started a two-day visit Sept. 21, his first trip to the crisis-hit nation, in a show of support for Ukraine’s pro-Western government.
Ex-Soviet Ukraine says it wants to join the US-led security bloc but NATO has been lukewarm on the proposal.
Any move by Ukraine towards NATO membership would stir ire in Moscow, which has accused the organization of increasingly trying to hem it in following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
NATO has ratcheted up its activities in eastern Europe, rotating troops and equipment in its ex-Communist members to ease fears of Russian expansionism.
The visit of Stoltenberg is “a part of the policy that NATO has been following for a year and a half,” a senior Ukrainian security official told AFP.
“They understand very well who is the aggressor and take appropriate measures.”
The official said he expects the level of violence will remain low ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s highly-anticipated speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 28.