NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Moscow Tuesday to end its military build-up in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and deescalate immediately.
In a news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Stoltenberg said that "NATO stands with Ukraine,” and added that the Russian movements were "unjustified, unexplained and deeply concerning.”
The leaders were speaking ahead of the extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, which was called to prepare NATO’s response to a possible surge of violence after the latest Russian military movements.
According to Stoltenberg, recent weeks have seen the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
"Russia has moved thousands of combat troops to Ukraine’s borders, the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Over the last days, several Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in eastern Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.
Ukraine asking for further sanctions against Russia
NATO and the West must act quickly to prevent an escalation of violence between Ukraine and Russia, Kuleba said, adding that further sanctions against Moscow could help.
“Ukraine does not want war,” Kuleba highlighted, asking for practical support from NATO.
"At the operational level, we need measures which will deter Russia and which will contain its aggressive intentions. This could be... a new round of sanctions which would raise the price of Russian aggression," Kuleba told a news conference, according to Reuters. "This could be direct support aimed at strengthening Ukraine's defence capabilities. Because we do know that Russia spares no effort to prevent third countries from cooperating with Ukraine in the defence sector. Russia is working hard to undermine our defence capabilities."
He also said the extraordinary meeting was meant to avoid the mistakes in 2014 “when Russia was ready to act swiftly and pursue its military goals in Crimea and Donbas, while Ukraine's Western partners were considering their reactions to what was happening on the ground.”
Stoltenberg: Not a business of Moscow to decide Ukraine's membership in NATO
Stoltenberg emphasized that the Western alliance, and not Moscow, would decide whether Ukraine joins in the future.
"It is for the 30 NATO allies to decide when Ukraine is ready for membership. No one else has any right to try to meddle or to interfere in that process," Stoltenberg said.
According to the NATO chief, Russia is now trying to reestablish some kind of sphere of influence where it tries to decide what neighbours can do.