As a US warship heads to the Black Sea via the Dardanelles Straits – according to Turkish media – NATO’s war of words with Russia has intensified.
General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen, on a visit to Prague, accused Russia of stirring up ethnic tensions in eastern Ukraine and said that it was down to Moscow to deescalate the situation.
“As I speak, some 40,000 Russian troops are massed along Ukraine’s borders – not training but ready for combat,” he told a news conference.
“If Russia is serious about a dialogue, the first step should be to pull back its troops.”
Rasmussen stressed that the alliance was not discussing military options, and the way forward was through diplomacy.
But he warned that any further military action by Russia would lead to grave consequences and severe economic sanctions.
Amid this increasingly tense Cold War style stand-off over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the foreign ministry in Moscow has hit back.
It claims NATO is using the crisis to boost its appeal to members and to justify its existence by rallying them against an imaginary threat.
The ministry said Rasmussen’s remarks were confrontational and that in recent months he had not offered “any constructive agenda” for Ukraine, adding that it was adding to instability in the region.
Video blog: "Call on Russia to step back" by Anders Fogh Rasmussen