Nato chief urges Russia to withdraw troops

August 08, 2014 - 12:00:00 am

KIEV: The head of Nato called on Russia to “step back from the brink” of war by pulling its troops back from the Ukrainian border and warned further intervention in Ukraine would bring it greater isolation in the world.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the US-led alliance’s secretary general, made his call yesterday during a visit to Ukraine in a show of solidarity after Nato warned of a possible invasion by Russia which, it said, had massed 20,000 troops near the frontier.

Saying Russia’s support for the rebels was growing in “scale and sophistication”, Rasmussen said: “I call on Russia to step back from the brink, step back from the border and not use peacekeeping as an excuse for war-making.”

Earlier, he and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk discussed possible Western alliance support for Ukraine’s defensive strength — excluding lethal aid — even as the Kiev government’s forces continued losing men in clashes with pro-Russia separatists in the Russian-speaking east.

The Kiev government announced it was suspending a ceasefire with the rebels at the crash site of the Malaysian airliner that was shot down on July 17, after an international mission halted recovery work there for security reasons.

Defence spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists that government forces had clashed 19 times with separatists in the 24 hours up to yesterday morning, often coming under artillery and missile fire from within Russian territory.

“In the past 24 hours we have lost seven servicemen, and 19 received wounds,” Lysenko said.

Regional authorities in Donetsk, the east’s main industrial hub and now the main rebel redoubt, said one person had been killed at a medical facility when a shell struck after a night of intensive artillery attacks.