KIEV (Reuters) – 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 U.S.-led alliance’s secretary general, made his call on Thursday 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.
Shortly after Rasmussen spoke, rebels brought down a Ukrainian Mig-29 fighter plane and a military helicopter sent into the conflict zone to pick up casualties, the Ukrainian military said.
The Mig-29 came down near Horlivka, about 100 km (60 miles) from the border with Russia. Its crew managed to eject from the aircraft, military information spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov told Interfax news agency.
The Mi-8 helicopter made a forced landing, military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky said, and its crew was believed to be safe. He said he could give no more details for fear of giving away the location of the crew on the ground.
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