NATO's top official has accused Russia of attacking Ukraine despite presenting a peace plan. This came as leaders of the members of the Western military alliance and its partners arrived in Wales for a summit.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Newport, Wales on Thursday that the summit, which officially kicks off later in the day, would be one of the most important in the history of the Western military alliance.
"We are faced with a dramatically changed security environment. To the east, Russia is attacking Ukraine," Rasmussen said. He also said that as long as the Kremlin continued on its current path, a seven-point peace plan presented by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday was virtually meaningless.
"What counts is what is actually happening on the ground," the NATO boss said. "And we are still witnessing, unfortunately, Russian involvement in destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine. So we continue to call on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukrainian borders, stop the flow of weapons and fighters into Ukraine, stop the support for armed militants in Ukraine and engage in a constructive political process."
US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron also sharply criticized Moscow.
"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," the two leaders wrote in a joint statement released on Thursday.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine of seeking to undermine efforts to make peace with its bid to join NATO.
"Just when approaches are being explored to start resolving concrete problems between Kyiv and the rebels, Kyiv has called for ending its non-aligned status and beginning joining NATO," Lavrov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.
"This is an obvious attempt to derail efforts to start a dialogue on ensuring national security," he added.
Poroshenko meets NATO leaders
Even without NATO membership, Poroshenko was in Newport on Thursday, where he held talks with a number of leaders, including Obama, Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was to meet with all 28 leaders later in the day.
Pro-Russian separatist rebels have been fighting government soldiers in eastern Ukraine since mid-April, in a conflict that has killed nearly 2,600 people, according to United Nations estimates.
NATO leaders were expected to discuss ways of trying to increase security for the alliance's eastern states while at the same time seeking to avoid further riling Russia.
Obligation to stop the "Islamic State"
The other main topic of discussion was expected to be the advance of "Islamic State" militants, who have taken large swathes of territory in Syria and northern Iraq.
Rasmussen said the international community "has an obligation to stop the Islamic State from advancing further," but noted that the alliance hasn't received any request for help.
"I'm sure that if the Iraqi government were to forward a request for NATO assistance, that would be considered seriously by NATO allies," he said.
pfd/jr (AFP, Reuters , AP, dpa)