Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The second-ranking diplomat in the North American Treaty Organization said Thursday there is unanimous support among member states for Ukraine in the face of the worst surge in violence between government forces and Russian separatists in two years.
After a private meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottenmoeller said at a joint press conference with her Ukrainian counterpart all 28 NATO members remain committed to supporting Ukraine after weeks of renewed violence at the hands of "Russian aggressive actions" in the eastern portion of the country.
The United States and its European allies have blamed Russia for stoking violence in Ukraine for years after Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-backed former president of Ukraine, was removed from power in 2014. Russia has officially denied any hand in encouraging violence by Russian separatists, but was party to a cease-fire deal and pledged to stop the violence instigated by pro-Russian forces.
Separatists have increased shelling and other violent provocations in the last two weeks, violating the cease-fire agreement negotiated in Minsk last year. The violence has been blamed for some 30 deaths, including Ukrainian military members and civilians near the city of Donetsk, which is at the center of the conflict.
"We are deeply concerned by the recent spike in violence. ... We must not accept this as the new normal," Gottenmoeller said.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO and therefore NATO states are not obligated by treaty to defend it from Russian aggression. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said last week he would hold a referendum in his country as to whether to seek NATO membership, though it remains unclear whether the alliance would be supportive of Ukraine's ascension given the degree to which it could provoke further Russian aggression across eastern Europe.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman talked down concerns over U.S. President Donald Trump's comments about NATO being "obsolete," saying he was confident the United States and the rest of NATO remain committed to maintaining peace and stability in the region.
"I am sure that the new president ... will always fight for democracy and democratic values," he said. "I believe the United States will always support justice, and justice is on the side of Ukraine."