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NATO chief to visit Ukraine amid Russia border tensions

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will visit Kiev Thursday, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said, amid heightened tensions over allegations Russia is massing troops along its ex-Soviet neighbour’s border.

The visit, at the invitation of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, is intended to discuss an upcoming meeting on NATO-Ukraine partnership, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Ukraine is not a member of the 28-nation alliance, and both sides say that Kiev joining the organisation is not on the cards.

NATO on Wednesday accused the Kremlin of bolstering its troop numbers on the Ukraine border to 20,000, from 12,000 in mid-July, creating a “dangerous situation” and stoking concerns Moscow could intervene in its neighbour by force.

“We share the concern that Russia could use the pretext of a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission as an excuse to send troops into eastern Ukraine,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.

Russia denies that it had increased the number of its troops on the border. Defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenikov was quoted on Wednesday as saying by the Interfax news agency that “movements of such forces of thousands of troops and equipment is not possible in such a short time”.

NATO has consistently backed up Kiev’s allegations that Moscow has fomented and armed pro-Russian rebels battling government troops in east Ukraine for almost four months.

The UN says the fighting in east Ukraine has killed over 1,300 people and forced some 285,000 people to flee their homes.

Rasmussen recently ratcheted up the rhetoric over the Ukraine, saying in an interview published on Sunday that NATO would draw up new defence plans in the face of “Russia’s aggression”.