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Updated: Thu, 04 Sep 2014 05:37:47 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Russia warns against Ukraine joining NATO ahead of summit



Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference in Moscow, August 25, 2014. Russia is willing to use any form of diplomacy to end the conflict in Ukraine, Lavrov said on Monday on the eve of a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev (© RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT)

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference in Moscow, August 25, 2014. Russia is willing to use any form of diplomacy to end the conflict in Ukraine, Lavrov said on Monday on the eve of a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT) - RTR43MEI Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov underlined Russia's opposition to Ukraine joining NATO as the alliance gathered for a summit on Thursday and warned the United States not to try to impose its own will on the former Soviet republic.

In a reference to opponents of NATO membership in Ukraine, who include members of the Russian-speaking minority, Lavrov said attempts to end the country's non-aligned status could "derail all efforts aimed at initiating a dialogue with the aim of ensuring national security."

Ukraine and Russia have been locked in a standoff for months, with pro-Moscow forces stirring instability in eastern Ukrainian cities. On the eve of the NATO summit in Cardiff, Wales, Russia and Ukraine said they were working on a deal to halt the fighting, but Western leaders expressed skepticism — noting it wasn't the first attempt to end the deadly conflict.

"We are faced with a dramatically changed security environment. To the east, Russia is attacking Ukraine," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said as he arrived in Wales.

Poroshenko to attend summit

In a show of Western solidarity with his embattled nation, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will participate in the NATO summit. Poroshenko will be the only head of state of a non-NATO member country in attendance.

Leaders are expected to agree on the creation of a rapid response force that would set up in nations in the alliance's eastern flank to serve as a deterrent to Russia. Baltic nations and others in the region fear Moscow could set its sights on their borders next.

"We must use our military to ensure a persistent presence in Eastern Europe, making clear to Russia that we will always uphold our Article 5 commitments to collective self-defense," wrote U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron in a joint editorial published in the Times of London published Thursday morning. 

Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, an attack on one member state is viewed an an attack on the whole alliance. Obama reiterated his support for that principle Wednesday during a visit to Estonia, one of the newer NATO members set on edge by Russia's provocations.

Fighting continues in Ukraine's east

Mortar fire rocked the southern reaches of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk overnight, despite the efforts to secure a ceasefire, witnesses said. 

Northern areas of the city also came under fire on Wednesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a seven-step plan for peace following a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

There were unconfirmed reports of deaths in Petrovka to the south of Donetsk.

"I don't think the Ukrainians can hold on to any peace agreement. They talked peace yesterday and then shell the Petrovka district of the city overnight. Civilians were killed again," said a rebel fighter, who used the nom de guerre Miner.

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