Nato has accused Russia of a “blatant violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty by engaging in direct military operations to support the pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country.

After an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen described Russia denial of sending troops and arms to support the rebels as “hollow” and said that it was clear that Russian forces had illegally crossed the border into Ukraine.

Condemning Russian actions in a statement, Rasmussen said:

“Russian forces are engaged in direct military operations inside Ukraine. Russia continues to supply the separatists with tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and rocket launchers. Russia has fired on Ukraine from both Russian territory and within Ukraine itself. Moreover, Russia continues to maintain thousands of combat-ready troops close to Ukraine’s borders. This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.”

He went on to say that Nato expresses “strong solidarity with Ukraine” and called on Russia to de-escalate the “grave crisis”.

Earlier, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said he was sending a bill to parliament calling for the cancellation of Ukraine’s non-aligned status and opening the pathway to membership of Nato.

Over 2,500 people have died in clashes in eastern Ukraine since April, when pro-Russian rebels in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk to take up arms in an attempt to follow Crimea in becoming part of the Russian Federation.

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