BRUSSELS - Nato head Jens Stoltenberg warned yesterday that there was still a risk of heavy fighting in Ukraine and urged Russia to halt its support for pro-Moscow rebels.
A February ceasefire brokered in Minsk by France and Germany has largely held, but fighting has seen an upsurge in recent weeks, threatening to undo the accord as the death toll tops 6,500.
"Ceasefire violations persist. There is still a risk of a return to heavy fighting," Mr Stoltenberg said.
"Russia continues to support the separatists with training, weapons and soldiers; it has a large number of forces stationed on its border with Ukraine," he added. "The best chance for peace is the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. I urge all parties to do so, and Russia has a special responsibility in this regard."
Russia denies that it is directly involved in the 15-month conflict in Ukraine.
Mr Stoltenberg was speaking at the opening of the Nato-Ukraine Council, which the alliance set up to coordinate relations with non-member Kiev after the end of the Cold War. He said Nato remained committed to Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, and would not recognise Russia's "illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea".
Nato's 28 members have approved a series of measures to boost readiness, and reassure nervous allies in eastern Europe that it will stand by them in the face of what Mr Stoltenberg said on Wednesday were Russia's "aggressive actions in Europe".
Meanwhile, Britain's Ministry of Defence said it will step up its programme of training for the Ukrainian armed forces. The move is to build on an existing programme of medical, infantry, logistics and tactical intelligence training that has been offered to 650 Ukrainians since March, and around 250 personnel will be trained next month alone in additional infantry, medical and survival skills, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA