NATO boosts Baltic presence as Rasmussen denies Russian pullout claims

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NATO boosts Baltic presence as Rasmussen denies Russian pullout claims

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NATO on Tuesday vowed to step up its presence in eastern Europe after the Alliance’s secretary general said there is no sign of Russia’s apparent troop pullout from Ukraine’s eastern border.

NATO is holding a two-day military exercise in the Baltics amid fears in the region that Moscow may intervene there next.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Juozas Olekas said: “We see that our partners in the Alliance are continuing to fulfill their promises, that they are with us even when there is no aggression, but when tension is mounting. That is when the interaction needs to be increased and that is why these drills have been taking place.”

Ministers want to increased military cooperation with Kyiv, although the new government says it is not seeking to become a member of NATO.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there is no evidence to support Russia’s claims that it has pulled away from Ukraine’s eastern frontier.

“Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops. This is not what we are seeing,” he told reporters in Brussels.

Reuters quoted a NATO official as saying as many as 40,000 Russian troops were stationed near the country’s border.

In a statement released on its website, NATO said it was also suspending all practical, military and civilian cooperation with Russia.

The ministers of 28 Western powers said: “(We are) united in our condemnation of Russia’s illegal military intervention in Ukraine and Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We do not recognise Russia’s illegal and illegitimate attempt to annex Crimea.”