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NATO chief prepares for talks with Russia, as fighting surges in eastern Ukraine

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NATO chief prepares for talks with Russia, as fighting surges in eastern Ukraine
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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says he is ready to meet Russia’s foreign minister, as violence escalates in eastern Ukraine.

He is due to hold talks with Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Munich security conference next month.

Stoltenberg would not be drawn on what they will discuss, but says there has been a substantial increase in Russian heavy equipment in Ukraine.

“We are vigilant, we are increasing our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance, and we are in the process of also establishing permanent command elements in all the six eastern allied NATO countries,” said Stoltenberg.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is blaming Kiev for the surge in fighting.

He claims Ukraine has not responded to a proposal to withdraw heavy weapons from the demarcation line – as a step towards a ceasefire.

The UN says more than 260 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine in nine days.

Russian separatists have ruled out joining more peace talks, vowing to push on with a new offensive.