Russian troops have been carrying out military manoeuvres near the Ukrainian border, marking a “regrettable step backward” for relations between the two countries.
Speaking at Chatham House in London, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen accused Moscow of sending “a few thousand” extra troops to the Ukraine border.
Mr Rasmussen said the soldiers were carrying out exercises as part of a “new Russian military build-up” in the region.
“I consider this a very regrettable step backwards and it seems that Russia keeps the option to intervene further,” he said.
“So the international community would have to respond firmly if Russia were to intervene further. That would imply deeper sanctions which would have a negative impact on Russia.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry has refused to comment on Mr Rasmussen’s claim.
It comes as Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko vowed to sign the contentious trade and economic relations portion of an historic EU pact in Brussels next week.
Ukraine’s former Kremlin-backed leadership rejected the EU Association Agreement last November, leading to months of deadly protests which forced President Viktor Yanukovych from power.
The political relations sections of the pact were signed in March by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Signing the pact will effectively cut Ukraine off from a Moscow-led economic alliance of a few former Soviet nations championed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia has threatened to impose trade restrictions against Ukraine should it sign the full EU deal.
Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists have been locked in fierce fighting in the east of Ukraine.
A pro-Moscow separatist commander, Igor Strelkov, reported “heavy losses” in equipment and arms during fighting at Yampil on Thursday.
“We beat off the first attack and destroyed one tank. But it is difficult to take on 20 tanks. The battle is going on,” he said in a video statement.
“Our people are holding but we can’t rule out that they (government forces) will break through.”
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19 June 2014 | 4:36 pm – Source: orange.co.uk