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NATO leaders to meet Poroshenko, build Russia strategy

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is due to update world leaders on negotiations with Russia before a NATO summit begins in Wales. There, the alliance will discuss greater protection for Eastern Europe.

The two-day NATO summit begins on Thursday in Newport, Wales. The military alliance is considering the creation of a

rapid reaction force

, potentially including several thousand troops that could be sent to a crisis zone in as little as two days.

The summit will largely focus on the Ukraine crisis and stepping up protection in Eastern Europe, with leaders looking to show a united front against aggression from Moscow.

The alliance is searching for a way to reassure its Eastern members without provoking the Kremlin. On Wednesday, the US President Barack Obama

announced a greater US military presence in the Baltics

, to calm nerves over the Russian-backed military intervention in eastern Ukraine.

Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron penned a joint opinion piece in The Times newspaper on Thursday, vowing to support Kyiv.

"Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening and undermining a sovereign nation state. We should support Ukraine's right to determine its own democratic future and continue our efforts to enhance Ukrainian capabilities," the two leaders wrote.

Poroshenko talks

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko will address a session of the NATO-Ukraine Council, set up after the country became an alliance partner in 1997. NATO has said that it has no plans to intervene militarily in Ukraine, which is not a member.

Poroshenko will update leaders on Wednesday's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which saw both sides

announce steps towards peace and a potential ceasefire

. The Ukrainian leader said he had high hopes for negotiations due to take place on Friday in Minsk.

Putin himself pre-empted the NATO summit on Wednesday by releasing a seven-point Ukraine peace plan. However, Ukraine's prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, rejected the plan as another "attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community."

Merkel rules out permanent troops

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday

ruled out permanently stationing NATO troops

in Eastern Europe. She said the alliance will defend the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, while upholding its treaty obligations with Russia.

Merkel said that Russia would likely respect the territorial integrity of the three Baltic countries, but acknowledged that NATO still had to take some measures to reassure its Eastern member states.

"When it comes to the question of the defense of the Baltic countries, I assume that the territorial integrity of these countries will be preserved," Merkel said, discussing Moscow's intentions in the region.

Signed in 1997, the NATO-Russia Founding Act prohibits the Western alliance from basing large number of troops in Eastern Europe, where the former Soviet Union reigned supreme during the Cold War.

Other issues for the Wales summit

In Wales, NATO is also expected to approve a support package for Ukraine worth around 12 million euros ($15.8 million) to improve Kyiv's military capabilities in areas such as logistics, command and control, and cyber defense.

Ukraine and the US Army will also host a stepped-up programme of war games, with a dozen countries due to take part in an exercise in Lviv, Ukraine, later this month.

Also on the agenda at the NATO summit will be the addressing of new threats posed by Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, along with international troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

jr/lw (Reuters, AFP)

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