Putin: Ukraine Army in Fact 'NATO Legion'
by VOA News January 26, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin says a 'NATO legion' is fighting against rebel forces in eastern Ukraine, and that its goal is to contain Russia.
"We often say: Ukrainian army, Ukrainian army. But who is really fighting [in eastern Ukraine]? There are official divisions of the armed forces but to a great extent there are so-called voluntary nationalist battalions. This is not even an army, it's a foreign legion. In this case it's a foreign NATO legion," Putin said, speaking before university students in the city of St. Petersburg.
"[They are there] with the aim of geopolitically containing Russia, which is absolutely not in the national interests of the Ukrainian people," he said.
Putin also accused Kyiv of refusing to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine peacefully.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Putin's claim as 'nonsense.'
'The statement that there is a NATO legion in Ukraine is nonsense. There is no NATO legion,' Stoltenberg said Monday, speaking to reporters in Brussels.
'The foreign forces in Ukraine are Russian,' he added.
'Stop destabilizing Ukraine'
NATO has called on Russia to stop destabilizing Ukraine and join efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis in the country's east.
"We call on Russia to stop its support for the separatists immediately, to stop destabilizing Ukraine and to respect its international commitments," a statement issued after an extraordinary meeting in Brussels of the NATO-Ukraine Commission said.
The meeting was reportedly called at Ukraine's request in the wake of a recent attack on the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, Donetsk region. The Saturday attack, which targeted residential areas, killed 30 civilians and wounded around 100.
"The attack was launched from territory controlled by separatists backed by Russia," the statement said.
The statement also said that in recent weeks Russia has supplied the rebels with hundreds of pieces of advanced equipment, including rocket systems, heavy artillery, tanks, armored vehicles and electronic warfare systems.
The document calls on "all parties to continue all efforts without delay to achieve a peaceful solution, in full conformity with the Minsk agreements," referring to a truce deal signed by the warring sides in September, adding that "NATO continues its full support for Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.'
Ukraine is not a NATO member but has upped its cooperation with the alliance since Russia annexed Crimea in March of last year. NATO has also set up several trust funds to help Ukraine improve its security forces in the face of what Kyiv and the West see as a Moscow-instigated rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier Monday, Ukraine's military said seven of its soldiers had been killed in the past day during renewed fighting. Officials say at least 24 soldiers have been wounded in the violence.
The recent escalation in fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia rebels in the east has prompted Ukraine's government put the country on high alert Monday.
Specter of new sanctions
U.S. President Barack Obama and European leaders on Sunday threatened new sanctions on Russia after the Mariupol attack.
Expressing concern about the attack and what he sees as Russian backing of the separatists, Obama said he would 'ratchet up' pressure on Moscow.
'We are deeply concerned about the latest break in the [Ukrainian] cease-fire and the aggression that these separatists, with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops, are conducting. And we will continue to take the approach that we have taken in the past, which is to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, and I will look at all additional options that are available to us short of military confrontation and try to address this issue.'
Some European leaders have recently talked of easing economic sanctions against Moscow. But Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who currently serves as president of the European Union, tweeted in a message, 'Once again, appeasement encourages the aggressor to greater acts of violence. Time to step up our policy based on cold facts, not illusions.'
EU foreign ministers are to discuss the latest violence in Ukraine on Thursday.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.
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