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NATO

Russia warns against Ukraine's NATO ambitions

Russia has repeated its opposition to Ukraine's ambitions to join NATO, saying it would "derail all efforts" in peace talks. Moscow's comments come ahead of the start of a NATO summit in Wales.

In comments reported by the Reuters news agency on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed Moscow's opposition to potential NATO membership of Ukraine, which is also home to a significant number of Russian speakers.

Lavrov said attempts to end Ukraine's non-aligned status could "derail all efforts aimed at initiating a dialogue with the aim of ensuring national security." Ukraine is not a NATO member but Kyiv has publicly stated that it would like to join the Western alliance.

Moscow's comments came hours before NATO leaders were to meet in Newport, Wales, to discuss greater protection for Eastern Europe. The talks will largely focus on the crisis in Ukraine, and the possibility of creating a rapid reaction force of several thousand troops that could be sent to global crisis zones.

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.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, though, ruled out permanently stationing NATO troops in Eastern Europe.

In Wales, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko is to 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.

Poroshenko has said he holds high hopes for negotiations with Russia due to take place on Friday in Minsk. Wednesday saw both sides announce steps towards peace and a potential ceasefire.

Almost 2,600 people have died in the conflict since April, when pro-Moscow separatists began battling government forces shortly after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March.

Kyiv and Western powers allege that Russia has sent troops into Ukraine to back the rebels, but Moscow has rejected the claims.

Russia is ready to take "practical steps" to de-escalate the crisis, Lavrov said.

"We hope that the calls (by Putin) will be heard, especially by Kyiv, (and the rebel leaders of) Donetsk and Luhansk," Lavrov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Also on the agenda at the NATO summit is the threat posed by Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, along with the withdrawl of international troops from Afghanistan.

jr/pfd (Reuters, AFP)

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