Russia Says NATO Is Stirring up 'Imaginary Threat' Over Ukraine

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Russia accused NATO on Thursday of cooking up an "imaginary threat" over Ukraine to justify the need for the alliance.

The comments by the Russian foreign ministry were the latest in a dialogue of Cold War-style rhetoric traded between Russia and the West over the crisis. They came after NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Moscow on Thursday to pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border.

"The alliance is trying to use the crisis in Ukraine to rally its ranks in the face of an imaginary external threat to NATO members and to strengthen demand for the alliance ... in the 21st century," the foreign ministry said, according to a report by Reuters.

United States F-16 fighter jets in March flying in the airspace of fellow NATO member Poland, where they are based.GRZEGORZ MICHALOWSKI / EPA

The ministry said there had been "constant accusations against us by the secretary general" of NATO.

Rasmussen told a news conference Thursday during a visit to the Czech Republic, a NATO member, that any further military action by Russia would lead to grave consequences and severe economic sanctions. He said NATO observations showed Russia had around 40,000 troops near Ukraine.

Meanwhile in Kiev, Ukrainian acting President Oleksander Turchinov told parliament no charges would be brought against pro-Russian separatists occupying buildings in eastern Ukraine if they leave their positions and give up their weapons. The demonstrators in Donestk and Luhansk are demanding a referendum, like the one in Crimea, to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.

"We guarantee that there will be no prosecutions of people who surrender their weapons and free the premises," said, according to a report by Interfax Ukraine. "And I am prepared to issue a respective presidential decree."

Reuters contributed to this report.

- Alexander Smith