Ukraine crisis: Nato promises 'more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on land' on eastern borders

As tensions escalate between pro-Russian forces and Ukraine Nato announces it will increase its military presence

Paris

Nato is to harden its military presence in eastern Europe – including the deployment of RAF warplanes – in response to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

The secretary general of the Atlantic alliance, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has promised “more planes in the air, more ships on the water, and more readiness on the land”.

In advance of new diplomatic negotiations in Geneva tomorrow, Mr Rasmussen called on Moscow to repudiate “the violent actions of well-armed militias or pro-Russian separatists" in a string of cities in  eastern Ukraine.

Nato’s supreme military commander reported, however, that there was no sign of any further Russian build-up close to the Ukrainian border. “The force posture of the Russian forces… has not significantly changed,” said General Philip Breedlove.

The UK defence secretary, Philip Hammond, has already offered RAF Typhoon aircraft to support Nato air patrols in the Baltic. The Ministry of Defence confirmed that preparations had started for the aircraft to fly to Lithuania.

Following a meeting of the North Atlantic Council – the ambassadors of the 28 Nato countries – Mr Rasmussen said a series of steps would be taken to reassure jumpy members of the alliance in central and eastern Europe. “Allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere, as required. Military staff from allied nations will deploy to enhance our preparedness, training and exercises,” he said.

The measures may be partly intended to strengthen the hand of American and EU negotiators before they enter talks in Geneva with Russia and the Ukraine. On Tuesday night, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, accused Moscow of making a “grave miscalculation”  by fomenting a “greater risk of violent confrontation” in Russian-speaking cities in the eastern part of Ukraine.

Mr Hague said that Russia had sent “armed groups, thinly disguised” to try to “destabilise Ukraine” and dictate the terms of a looser, more federal constitution for its eastern neighbour.

Read more: Ukraine 'on the brink of civil war'

On Tuesday, the German chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned the Russian president Vladimir Putin to deliver a similar message. She is believed to have warned Mr Putin that the EU was prepared to move towards tougher economic sanctions on an already stumbling Russian economy unless Mosow “de-escalated” the crisis.

In response, Mr Putin accused the interim Ukrainian government in Kiev of escalating the conflict by making military moves against the pro-Russians occupying key buildings in eastern Ukraine. He said the country was “in effect on the verge of a civil war”.

In Kiev, the interim Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk accused Moscow of orchestrating “terrorism”.

“Russia has got a new export now, apart from oil and gas: Russia is now exporting terrorism to Ukraine," Mr Yatsenyuk told a cabinet meeting. “Russia must withdraw its sabotage groups, condemn terrorists and liberate all administrative buildings.”

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