Ukraine crisis: No sign of Russian troop pullout - Nato

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "This is not what we're seeing on the ground"

Nato is not seeing a Russian troop pullout from the border with Ukraine, the military alliance's chief has said.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen again stressed that the best way to solve the crisis was through "a political dialogue".

Nato foreign ministers are now discussing ways to help Ukraine and also reassure allies in Eastern Europe.

This comes after Russia's takeover last month of Ukraine's Crimea region. Meanwhile, Moscow warned Kiev against integration with Nato.

It is the first time ministers from the 28-member Nato bloc have convened since the annexation of Crimea.

The alliance has also bolstered air drills to be held over the Baltic states.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel he had ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian troops near the eastern border of Ukraine, according to the German government.

Moscow is believed to have massed tens of thousands of soldiers there in recent days, causing alarm in Kiev and the West.

Analysis

Nato sources say some 35,000- 40,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine's eastern border.

The Russians say this is a military drill but I am told that what is worrying Western intelligence experts is that there is actually very little exercising going on. The troops are simply deployed and waiting.

Tanks, mechanised infantry, and special forces - many of them among Russia's most capable units - are all in the field and they have the logistical back-up to keep them there for some considerable time.

Russian energy firm Gazprom is increasing the price it charges Ukraine for gas from Tuesday.

Gazprom's chief executive Alexei Miller said the price of Russian gas for Ukraine had gone up to $385.5 (£231) per 1,000 cubic metres in the second quarter of 2014 from the previous rate of $268.50.

Mr Miller added that Ukraine's unpaid gas bills to Russia stood at $1.7bn.

In other developments on Tuesday

  • Ukraine's parliament ordered security services to disarm all "illegal armed groups", following Monday night's shooting in Kiev that involved a member of the radical Right Sector group
  • MPs in Kiev voted to allow to hold joint military exercises with Nato and other nations on Ukrainian soil
  • Russia's upper house of parliament voted to pull out of a treaty with Ukraine on the Black Sea Fleet's presence in Crimea

Tensions between the Kremlin and the West rose after the overthrow of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, following months of street protests.

Russia's subsequent decision to annex Crimea, after a Moscow-backed referendum that was later condemned as illegal by the UN General Assembly, triggered a crisis in relations.

The US and EU have imposed sanctions on members of President Putin's inner circle and other officials. Russia has retaliated with its own sanctions on US politicians.

Rattled nerves
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"Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops," Mr Rasmussen told reporters. "This is not what we are seeing."

He said Moscow had undermined the principles on which a Nato-Russia partnership was built, adding that there could be no more "business as usual".

Russian infantry fighting vehicles on train carriages in the western Russian town of Vesyolaya Lopan (12 March 2014) Russia has said the troops deployed along its border with Ukraine are taking part in military exercises
A woman walks past a trainload of Ukrainian tanks near the Crimean capital Simferopol on 31 March 2014 Ukrainian forces have been leaving Crimea after Russia's military takeover of the peninsula
USAF F-15 jet The US Air Force has sent 10 F-15 jets to help Nato boost its military presence in the Baltic states
Members of the Ukrainian radical group Right Sector leave their headquarters in Dnipro Hotel in Kiev as police special forces stand guard. Photo: 1 April 2014 Ukraine's special forces reportedly seized weapons from members of the radical Right Sector group

"Russia's aggression against Ukraine challenges our vision of a Europe whole free and at peace," Mr Rasmussen said.

Nato foreign ministers later agreed the formal suspension of co-operation with Moscow at their meeting in Brussels.

At a brief public session ahead of the meeting going into closed session, Mr Rasmussen praised what he termed the "exemplary restraint" shown by the Ukrainian government and military, and welcomed the advent of "solid democracy" in Ukraine.

He concluded by saying: "The only path to follow is the political and diplomatic path."

In an earlier statement, Nato said ministers would speak to acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia about ways to support Ukraine with its defence reforms.

In Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry warned Kiev against any attempts to join Nato, saying such efforts in the past had "led to a freezing of Russian-Ukrainian political contacts, a 'headache' in Nato-Russia relations and... a deepening split within Ukrainian society".

In Brussels, the Nato ministers are looking at options including situating permanent military bases in the Baltic states to reassure members in Eastern Europe.

Russia's actions in Ukraine have rattled nerves in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were part of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Nato jets will take part in air patrols in the region later in a routine exercise that analysts say has taken on added significance due to the crisis.

Several Nato countries, including the UK, US and France, have offered additional warplanes.

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