NATO's chief said Monday that a weekend rocket attack in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol came from areas controlled by separatists who are receiving more equipment from Russia.
"We condemn the sharp escalation of violence along the cease-fire line in eastern Ukraine by Russia-backed separatists. This comes at great human cost to civilians," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels.
Stoltenberg spoke after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused NATO of pursuing its own interests in Ukraine and using civilians as "cannon fodder."
The rocket attack Saturday killed 30 people and injured about 100. Stoltenberg said it occurred after Russia supplied the separatists with rocket systems, tanks, armored vehicles and electronic surveillance systems.
Mariupol is a strategic port city on the Black Sea that is still controlled by Ukrainian forces. If captured by separatists, it would give them a land corridor to Russia-controlled Crimea. The city had been relatively quiet for months before Saturday's attack.
Putin claimed the Ukrainian army "is not an army, but a foreign legion, in this case a foreign NATO legion, which, of course, doesn't pursue the national interests of Ukraine."
NATO's goal is "achieving the geopolitical goals of restraining Russia," Putin told students in St. Petersburg.
Stoltenberg called Putin's claim "nonsense."
"There is no NATO legion. The foreign forces in Ukraine are Russian," he said. "There are Russian forces in Ukraine, and Russia backs the separatists with equipment."
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko told world leaders last week at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, that more than 9,000 Russian troops have crossed the border into eastern Ukraine.
At least 5,100 people have been killed since fighting began in April, but violence last week was the most intense since a cease-fire deal was signed in September. Representatives of Ukraine, separatists and Russia failed to agree last week on how to proceed with implementing the deal that unraveled in recent weeks.
While sanctions against Russia are set to expire this summer, President Obama said Sunday that Washington would work with its European partners to "ratchet up the pressure on Russia" in response to the latest violence. European Union foreign ministers will meet Thursday to discuss Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said NATO leaders will continue to meet with Ukraine's military leaders to discuss modernizing that country's armed forces. He also said he favors putting economic pressure on Russia.
"The economic sanctions are important because they make it clear to Russia that violating international law, not living up their international obligations, has consequences. It has a cost," Stoltenberg said.
He said the NATO leaders call on Russia to "respect its international commitments," and he urged all parties to implement the cease-fire agreement.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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