PARIS - NATO’s secretary general is calling on Russia to stop supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, calling a fragile cease-fire in place insufficient.
During his first official visit to Ukraine since becoming NATO chief last year, Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that a cease-fire in the eastern part of the country is mostly holding.
"This is of course encouraging because that was not the case before. But still the situation is very fragile,” he said. “Russia continues to support the separatists. They provide them with weapons, with different kinds of equipment, with training, with forces. So the situation is still fragile."
Stoltenberg said the path to peace in eastern Ukraine lies in fully implementing the Minsk cease-fire agreements. And, he said, that means Russia must stop supporting the separatists there.
The conflict between Ukraine’s military and pro-Russian rebels has killed nearly 8,000 people since April of last year.
The NATO chief, who is visiting Ukraine through Tuesday, spoke at a news conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
The two were at a military base where rescuers from 34 NATO member states and Ukraine are holding joint drills on responding to disasters like forest fires and mines.
NATO has supported Ukraine in its standoff with Russia, but it has not met Kyiv’s request to supply offensive weapons.
Ukraine has been pushing for NATO membership. Poroshenko told reporters the door is open. He said the joint exercises could help deepen defense cooperation with NATO, but that his country is not yet ready to join.