The head of NATO says Russia has resumed a troop build-up along its border with Ukraine, as Ukraine's president announced that he will sign an association agreement with the European Union.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels that "at least a few thousand more" Russian troops had been deployed in what he said was "a new Russian military build-up" around the Ukrainian border. He called it "a very regrettable step backwards."
He said the Russian troop deployment would be a "positive step" if it were aimed at sealing the border and preventing the flow of fighters and weapons to the separatists,
But this is not "what we're seeing," said Rasmussen.
Up to 40,000 Russian troops were deployed near the border with Ukraine, but NATO reported last month that they had been withdrawn from the area.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said he will sign an association agreement with the European Union on June 27. The refusal by Ukraine's former pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, to sign the EU association agreement last November triggered the unrest that led to his ouster earlier this year.
Poroshenko also said that he will present a peace plan for eastern Ukraine on Friday. As part of that plan, he has proposed instituting a unilateral cease-fire to give rebels the chance to disarm or leave the country.
Poroshenko outlined the plan in a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday, highlighting the need for hostages to be freed and an effective control established on the joint border.
Separatist officials already have rejected the offer, and heavy fighting between government and separatist forces was reported Thursday in eastern Ukraine.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the United States will work with its partners to impose "further costs on Russia" if it does not use its influence to help halt the separatist violence in eastern Ukraine.
The White House said Biden spoke with Poroshenko by telephone Wednesday, and the two promised to "stay in touch" before a meeting of European Union leaders next week.
The United States and European Union imposed sanctions against a group of Russian individuals and companies after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March.
The United Nations says the pro-Russian separatists's rebellion in eastern Ukraine has involved killings, torture and abductions to instill a "climate of fear."
U.N. Human Rights official Gianni Magazzeni said the situation has created challenges for those caught up in the fighting.
"This has to so with access to public services whether it is schools, medical services, whether it is food, whether it is electricity, water," said Magazzeni. "But it is also a question of a total breakdown in law and order, the inability to get protection when it comes to ill treatment, detention, abductions and possible also torture and executions that are, and we are reporting, are taking place in this pocket areas in the East in the course of the past month."
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay urged armed separatists to stop actions she says are leading to misery and destruction in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. She said "the time has come to put down the guns and talk."
OSCE monitors in contact
According to news reports by Reuters, a spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a security-oriented intergovernmental human rights and arms control agency, says it has reestablished communication with two teams of international monitors deployed in Eastern Ukraine.
"We know that the first ones, the ones that were taken longer ago are alive and unharmed," the spokesman told the news agency.
Pro-Russian troops prepare to travel in a tank on a road near the town of Yanakiyevo, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, June 20, 2014.
People carry their belongings as they walk to cross the border into Russia at the Ukrainian-Russian border checkpoint in Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, June 20, 2014.
A man examines a destroyed building after fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian fighters in the city of Artyomovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, June 20, 2014.
Pro-Russian fighters wave a white flag to start a handover of the bodies of Ukrainian troops killed in a plane shot down near Luhansk, at a check point in the village of Karlivka near Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, June 18, 2014.
Pro-Russian fighters wait for representatives of the Ukrainian troops at a checkpoint in the village of Karlivka for the handover of the bodies of Ukrainian troops who died in a plane shot down near Luhansk, Ukraine, June 18, 2014.
Pro-Russian separatists stand guard at a check-point as a car drives past outside Luhansk, Ukraine, June 18, 2014.
Miners, one of them carrying a sign with the name of the mine Trudovskaya, march in support of peace in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, June 18, 2014.
Residents collect water at a pumping station in the eastern Ukranian city of Slovyansk, June 17, 2014.
A woman walks past portraits of protesters who were killed in clashes with police in February in Independence Square in Kyiv, June 18, 2014.
People take part in a rally to press demands for parliament to be dissolved and early elections outside the assembly in Kyiv, June 17, 2014.
Pro-Russian fighters walk past remnants of a downed Ukrainian army aircraft Il-76 at the airport near Luhansk, Ukraine, June 14, 2014.