Russia has moved troops closer to the border with Ukraine and continues to support rebels in the country's east, NATO's chief said on Tuesday, after an election held by the pro-Russian separatists and condemned by Kiev and Western leaders.
Ukraine's president said Sunday's vote flouted terms of a plan to end a war that has killed more than 4,000 people, and that newly formed army units would be sent to defend a string of eastern cities against a possible new rebel offensive.
"Recently we are seeing Russian troops moving closer to the border with Ukraine," Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of NATO, told a news conference with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
"Russia continues to support separatists by training them, by providing equipment and support them by also having Russian special forces inside eastern parts of Ukraine."
Russia has denied military involvement in eastern Ukraine despite what Western officials have cited as overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
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"We call on Russia to make genuine efforts towards a peaceful solution," Stoltenberg said, "and to use all their influence on the separatists to make them respect the Minsk agreements and to respect the ceasefire which is a precondition for a political solution to the difficult situation in Ukraine."
Stoltenberg said Russia was also trying to show strength by increasing military flights close to NATO air space in Europe.
"We (NATO) are intercepting the Russian planes whether it is in the Atlantic Sea or in the Baltic Sea or in the Black Sea. The numbers of intercepts have so far this year been over 100, which is about three times as much as the total number of intercepts the whole of last year," he said.