Ukraine ready to contribute to added NATO presence in Eastern Europe

Ukraine is ready to contribute to plans by NATO to step up its troop presence in Eastern Europe, the country's defence minister said Wednesday.

NATO's plans to bolster its eastern flank by deploying four battalions of soldiers to Poland and the Baltic countries, as well as supporting a brigade in Romania, are expected to ratchet up tensions with Russia.

"This will be a very dangerous increase of military forces rather close to our border," Russian senior diplomat Andrei Kelin said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

"It will require certain responsive measures from our side," said Kelin, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's European affairs department.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed a similar sentiment in a speech to the country's lower house of parliament.

Russia "does not intend to be drawn into a conflict with the United States, NATO or the European Union," but "no one should doubt whether we will defend our country and our citizens," Lavrov said, according to Interfax.

Moscow, which has annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and supported separatists in eastern Ukraine, has long been wary of closer ties between Kiev and NATO.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said that his country is ready to support NATO efforts in the Black Sea region, including the brigade in Romania.

"We are ready to perform tasks together with other countries ... in order to provide security in the Black Sea region," Poltorak said in Brussels on Wednesday after meeting with NATO defence ministers.

"When the decision is taken on the level of the alliance, we will join our counterparts," he added.

The stepped-up NATO presence in Eastern Europe is expected to be finalized at a summit of the alliance's leaders in Warsaw next month.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will also attend the summit, which is expected to endorse NATO assistance to Ukraine. New projects are being developed to help Kiev when it comes to countering hybrid warfare and explosive devices, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

He also expressed concern about continuing violations of a ceasefire that is supposed to be respected by Ukrainian troops and separatists in the east of the country.

Poltorak said there have been 7,000 violations since the start of the year, showing that "the ceasefire doesn't exist."

Last update: Wed, 15/06/2016 - 14:27

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