Ukraine's embattled government said Friday it wants to join the Western military alliance as the UN said nearly 2,600 people have died in eastern Ukraine in the past five months, amid growing evidence of Russian involvement in intensified fighting.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said he will ask parliament to abandon the country’s non-aligned status and set it on a course to join NATO. Talks to prepare for Ukraine's membership had intensified between Kiev and the Western military alliance between 2005 and 2010, until the election of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich stalled the process.
The announcement came as NATO examined Ukraine's call for help at an emergency meeting in Brussels on Friday. The alliance's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told reporters after the meeting that a 2008 decision ruling that "Ukraine will become a member of NATO" was still valid.
Although Kiev had since then stopped progress towards joining NATO, "we fully respect if the Ukrainian parliament decides to change that policy", he added, saying the alliance "condemned in the strongest terms" what he described as Russia’s “illegal military actions".
Speaking from Brussels, FRANCE 24 correspondent Meabh McMahon said announcements were expected at a NATO summit in the UK next week. "From sources I have spoken to here in NATO, it's unlikely that the alliance will provide military assistance to Ukraine but they will look at other ways of supporting them, namely with trust funds," she said.
The Western military alliance is also expected to decide on a readiness action plan enabling faster military deployments to eastern Europe.
Mounting death toll
Meanwhile, the United Nations said that a total of 2,593 people, including civilians as well as Ukrainian and separatist combatants, have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine since it erupted in mid-April.
"The trend is clear and alarming. There is a significant increase in the death toll in the east," Ivan Simonovic, UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, told journalists.
"The current number of killed is 2,593 – close to 3,000 if we include the 298 victims of the MH17 (Malaysian airliner) plane crash," he said.
Simonovic, presenting a report by a UN monitoring mission, said civilian casualties would continue to rise "as each side increases its strength, through mobilisation, better organisation or the deployment of new fighters and more sophisticated weapons and support from outside."
The death toll was nearly 400 higher than that given in a previous report covering the period up to August 17.
The report accused pro-Russian separatists of a wide array of human rights abuses, including murder, abductions and torture, and said they were receiving a "steady supply" of sophisticated weapons and ammunition.
The report, prepared by the UN human rights office in Geneva, also cited reports of human rights violations by Ukraine's military forces and special battalions run by the Interior Ministry.
Simonovic said that the alleged increased participation of foreign fighters in the hostilities – a reference to Russian troops and volunteer fighters – was especially disturbing.
Russia dismisses 'conjectures'
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again dismissed allegations on Friday of Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine after diplomats presented intelligence on troop and equipment movements to the UN on Thursday.
"We're hearing various conjectures, not for the first time, but not once have any facts been presented to us," Lavrov told a news conference.
In remarks televised on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a political youth camp that Western claims of Russian interference were only intended to give Ukrainian forces "a little time to shoot".
Instead, he called for "substantial, meaningful talks, to understand what rights the people of Donbass, Lugansk, the entire southeast of the country will have".
FRANCE 24's chief foreign editor Rob Parsons said Russian denials were at odds not only with evidence from Ukrainian and Western officials, but also from testimonies within Russian and Ukrainian separatists ranks.
"Russia is simply taking the international community for a fool," Parsons said, citing reports by the Russian soldiers' mothers' committee and Putin's own human rights commissioner that hundreds of Russian servicemen had been killed or wounded while fighting in Ukraine.
FRANCE 24's foreign editor added: "This position of denial is looking increasingly implausible as time goes by in the light of what President Vladimir Putin himself did last April, after spending two months denying that any Russian troops were in Crimea, admitting at a big press conference for the Russian media that yes, all along, there were Russian soldiers behind the so-called self-defence forces".
Germany also joined the chorus of Russia’s international critics on Friday, with government spokesman Steffen Seibert declaring that Moscow’s actions inside Ukraine "add up to a military intervention".
"This is a very serious and unjustifiable development," he said.
FRANCE 24's Parsons and McMahon on diplomatic developments
Date created : 2014-08-29