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NATO Suspends Cooperation with Russia

NATO foreign ministers say they are suspending civilian and military cooperation with Russia because of the conflict over Ukraine.

In a joint statement following a meeting about Ukraine in Brussels, the ministers said NATO's political dialogue with Russia can continue as necessary. They said they do not recognize Russia's attempt to annex Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, calling it "illegal and illegitimate." They urged Russia to take "immediate" steps to return to compliance with international law.

The Associated Press quoted an unnamed NATO official who attended the meeting as saying that the foreign ministers agreed on a number of measures that may be taken, including the deployment and reinforcement of military assets in eastern NATO members such as Poland and the Baltic states, an increase of readiness levels for the NATO rapid response force, and a possible review of NATO crisis response plans, military training, and exercise schedules.

The foreign ministers also said they are committed to intensifying cooperation with Ukraine to strengthen its ability to provide for its own security.

Earlier, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters he cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops from the Ukraine border.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by telephone Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and her office said after the call that Putin had told her Russian troops are withdrawing. Ms. Merkel later told reporters that any such withdrawal would "certainly" not be the final step in smoothing out relations between Ukraine and Russia.

Russia said it pulled back hundreds of troops from its border with Ukraine on Monday, but reports say tens of thousands still remain.

Tuesday and Wednesday's gathering in Brussels is the first senior-level NATO gathering since the crisis in Ukraine began last month.

NATO has increased air patrols over the Baltics and the United States is planning more intense military exercises with Poland.

Diplomats say the ministers could decide to step up NATO military exercises or possibly set up permanent bases in Eastern Europe, closer to the Russian border.

Also Tuesday, Ukraine's parliament voted to disarm illegal armed groups after a shooting incident in Kyiv involving police and a far-rights nationalist organization.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the Russian forces are creating a "climate of fear" inside Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is denouncing Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev's visit to Crimea, calling it a "crude violation" of diplomatic protocol.

Mr. Medvedev is leading a delegation of Cabinet ministers to look at ways to boost Crimea's struggling economy. He is proposing raises for state workers in Crimea and investment in infrastructure and transportation.

Mr. Medvedev toured a hospital in Crimea's largest city, Simferopol, Monday.

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