Russia lashes out at NATO over Ukraine crisis

Russia lashed out at NATO on Monday, saying the alliance risked "destabilising" Europe with military drills linked to a spike in tensions over the Ukraine crisis.

Moscow: Russia lashed out at NATO on Monday, saying the alliance risked "destabilising" Europe with military drills linked to a spike in tensions over the Ukraine crisis.

Russia`s deputy foreign minister Alexei Meshkov said the US-led military alliance was "trying to destabilise the world`s most stable region".

"Endless military exercises, the deployment of nuclear-capable planes to Baltic countries" will lead to the "destruction" of stability and security in the region, he told the Interfax news agency.

The comments came on the eve of a meeting of foreign ministers from NATO`s 28 member states in Brussels.

The talks will be dominated by Ukraine, where fighting in the east between government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels has killed over 4,300 people and displaced nearly one million since April.

The West accuses Moscow of stoking the conflict and has imposed sanctions against Russia, sending relations plunging to Cold War lows.

On the ground, Ukraine`s military said its forces and Russian generals had agreed a temporary ceasefire around the airport in rebel-held Donetsk that has been the focus of fighting for months.

A pro-Russian rebel leader confirmed to AFP that top-level negotiations were ongoing but that no final agreement was expected before Tuesday.

Residents around the airport reported a lull in fighting.

At least three Ukrainian soldiers were killed in battles for control of Donetsk airport over the past 24 hours, a military spokesman said.

Any truce agreement concerning the hotly disputed airport site would mark significant progress after the two sides agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire three months ago that never took full force.

US President Barack Obama and new European Council chief Donald Tusk expressed their concern over the Ukraine crisis in their first telephone call on Monday, and urged Russia to pull back from the country`s east.

We "agreed on how important it is for Russia to withdraw from eastern Ukraine, to stop supplying troops and equipment, to allow effective control of the border," Tusk said in a statement.

"The European Union and the United States continue working together closely, including on sanctions as well as on financial support to Ukraine. We agreed to stay united and to keep a steady course."

Moscow fiercely rejects any claims that it is involved in the fighting in east Ukraine but gives open political backing to the rebels, who now boast the heavy weaponry of a regular army.Russia`s deputy foreign minister Meshkov repeated a warning to Kiev to stay out of NATO after the Ukrainian government further angered Moscow last week by stating it hoped to join the alliance.

Moscow strongly opposes the expansion of Western institutions in what it considers its backyard.

"Ukraine`s membership of NATO will undermine the entire system of European security. Those who are now trying to pull Kiev into NATO are taking up tremendous geopolitical responsibility," Meshkov said.

Meanwhile, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said the first troops of a high-speed reaction force designed to meet the sort of crisis highlighted by Russia`s Ukraine intervention should be ready early next year.

"This will make us even better prepared to deter and to defend against any crisis arising around our borders," he said.

Faced with eastern NATO allies alarmed by a resurgent Russia, the military bloc has taken steps to boost its defences in the region.

It has staged military exercises and deployed aircraft and personnel on a rotational basis through its eastern member states in an effort to reassure them.

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