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Russia, NATO square off over Ukraine as Obama heads to Europe

Update: September, 03/2014 - 09:25

MOSCOW  — Russia has declared NATO a major "threat" after the Western military alliance announced plans to reinforce defences in eastern Europe because of the Kremlin's perceived stoking of war in Ukraine.

Moscow's surprise declaration of a shift in its military doctrine on Tuesday came ahead of a NATO summit in Wales on Thursday at which beleaguered Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will lobby US President Barack Obama for military backing.

Obama will deliver a message of firm NATO support for its newest members from the former Soviet empire on Wednesday when he visits the tiny Baltic state of Estonia, where he will also meet the leaders of Latvia and Lithuania.

The Russian national security council's deputy secretary Mikhail Popov said NATO's plan for new fast-response units in eastern Europe was "evidence of the desire of US and NATO leaders to continue their policy of aggravating tensions with Russia."

Popov added that Russia's 2010 military doctrine – a document that already permits the use of nuclear weapons in case of grave national danger – would focus more in future on overcoming NATO and its new European anti-missile defence system.

Ukraine on Tuesday reported losing 15 more soldiers in the latest day of clashes with Russian-backed insurgents.

The United Nations' refugee agency said on Tuesday that the fighting has driven more than half a million people from their homes in addition to claiming an estimated 2,600 lives.

NATO rapid response unit

The Ukrainian president's appeal for European military assistance in the face of Russia's alleged dispatch of crack troops into the conflict zone was dismissed at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels at the weekend.

But NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the 28-nation alliance would endorse the establishment of a force of "several thousand troops" that could be deployed within "very few days" to meet any perceived Russian military movements in eastern Europe.

Yet the plan would be of no immediate help to Ukraine's government because the country is not a member of NATO – a point stressed by Obama in his rejection of calls to involve the US military.

Poroshenko convened his national security and defence council late on Monday to discuss mounting setbacks in the mostly Russian-speaking regions where the army had until recently put rebels on the back foot. — AFP

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