NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen set the tone for a NATO summit by saying that "Russia is attacking Ukraine" and continuing to destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine despite a cease-fire plan proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking as leaders gathered in Wales on September 4 for a two-day summit that was likely to be dominated by the conflict in Ukraine, Rasmussen said what matters is not Russia's words but its actions on the ground.
Reuters quoted a NATO military officer as saying on condition of anonymity that Russia has several thousand combat troops and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles inside Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are battling government forces in fighting that has killed more than 2,600 people since April.
The NATO chief said “a genuine effort to facilitate a peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine” would be for “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.”
Rasmussen said the two-day NATO summit in Wales that starts on September 4 would take steps to counter the threats the crisis poses to member states.
He said NATO leaders would adopt a "readiness action plan" to rotate alliance troops through military bases in some of NATO's easternmost states.
That plan calls for the creation of a rapid-reaction force capable of deploying quickly to Eastern and Central Europe if a NATO alliance member is attacked by Russia or any other adversary.
It also would include the positioning equipment and logistics facilities in the region.
Poland and the Baltic states have called for NATO to permanently base foreign NATO troops in their territory.
But Rasmussen said rotating deployments through NATO member countries like Poland and the Baltic states would not violate the 1997 “NATO-Russia Founding Act” -- a formal agreement meant to ensure that Russia and NATO do not treat each other as adversaries.
He added, “It’s clear to everybody that Russia has violated the fundamental principles of the NATO-Russia Founding Act.”
The NATO chief also said the alliance would not violate the NATO-Russia Rome declaration that established the NATO-Russia Council in 2002.
“We have decided that while we have suspended all practical cooperation with Russia, we will keep this political channel open” for “political and diplomatic dialogue with Russia,” Rasmussen said.
NATO members have rejected Russia's denials that it has sent troops and weaponry into eastern Ukraine to reinforce pro-Russian separatists who have made gains recently in a four-month-old conflict that has killed more than 2,600 people.
Video shot by RFE/RL on September 3 indicated Ukrainian government forces had ceded Novosvitlivka, a village near the rebel-held provincial capital of Luhansk, to separatists.
Amid reports that rebel forces were approaching Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov south of Donetsk and Luhansk, Reuters cited a Ukrainian military source as saying army units in the area were on heightened alert and "preparing to respond to an attack."
Kyiv says the recent separatist gains have come largely thanks to Russian troops and weapons.
After talks by telephone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on September 3, Putin proposed a seven-point cease-fire plan and said he hoped representatives of Ukraine and the rebels would agree on a plan to end their conflict during talks on September 5 in Minsk.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk dismissed Putin's proposal as an attempt to avoid tougher Western sanctions and said Russia should "withdraw its troops, its mercenaries, and its terrorists from Ukrainian territory."
Rasmussen said NATO leaders, who met Poroshenko on September 4, would adopt a joint declaration and “outline concrete steps” to enhance NATO’s partnership and “step up cooperation” with Ukraine, which is not an alliance member.
Yatsenyuk wants Ukraine to abandon its nonaligned status and seek NATO membership, which Russia adamantly opposes.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on September 4 that any attempts by Ukraine to to abandon its non-aligned status could "derail all efforts aimed at initiating a dialogue with the aim of ensuring national security," suggesting they would make it impossible to resolve the conflict in the east.
Lavrov said Russia was counting on Ukraine's government and the separatists to respond to Putin's proposal and accused the United States of supporting what he called a "party of war" in Kyiv that was hampering efforts to end the conflict.
Turning to Afghanistan, Rasmussen said the summit would work on creating a new relationship between NATO and Afghanistan after 2014.
But he said “time is of the essence” for Afghanistan to resolve its disputed presidential election so that the next Afghan president can sign security agreements that allow NATO to deploy a training mission called “Resolution Support” on January 1, 2015.
On Iraq, Rasmussen said NATO has never been formally asked to carry out missions against Islamic State militants.
But he said “the international community as a whole has an obligation to stop the Islamic State” militants and that he was sure NATO allies would seriously consider any request for help from the Iraqi government.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP