Western leaders on Thursday announced plans to launch further sanctions against Russia over its intervention in Ukraine even after Moscow said talks with Kiev could lead to a ceasefire in a five-month-old armed revolt by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Attending a two-day NATO summit in Newport, Wales, the leaders demanded that Moscow withdraw its troops from Ukraine, but made clear that the military alliance would not use force to defend Ukraine, which is not a member, Reuters reported.
“We call on Russia to end its illegal and self-declared annexation of Crimea,” NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after the 28 leaders met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. “We call on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine and stop the flow of arms, fighters and funds to the separatists. We call on Russia to step back from confrontation and take the path of peace.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the West was prepared to lend weight to those demands with further sanctions but also to talk to Moscow about a political solution, according to the news agency.
The sanctions would target Russia’s defense industry, state-owned banks and associates of President Vladimir Putin, BBC News reported.
Poroshenko, whose forces have suffered a string of setbacks in the last week, told reporters he would order a ceasefire on Friday if an agreement on a peace plan to end the war in eastern Ukraine is signed at talks in the Belarus capital of Minsk.
“The only thing we need now for peace and stability is just two main things: first, that Russia withdraw their troops, and second, to close the border,” he said, adding he was cautiously optimistic about Friday’s peace talks.
A NATO military officer said Moscow had “several thousand” combat troops and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles operating in Ukraine. The Kremlin denies it has any forces fighting alongside the rebels.
The White House said US President Barack Obama and leaders of Germany, France, Britain and Italy agreed on the sidelines of the summit that Russia should face “increased costs” for its actions.
The NATO leaders also discussed how to tackle Islamic State militants who have captured swathes of Iraq and Syria, posing a new security threat on the alliance’s southeastern flank, and how to stabilize Afghanistan when NATO’s combat mission there expires at the end of the year, Reuters said.
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