NATO warns of new Russian troop buildup

NATO warned Thursday of a “new Russian military buildup” at the Ukrainian border, calling the move a “regrettable step” that could inflame tensions in the region.

"I can confirm that we now see a new Russian military buildup — at least a few thousand more Russian troops deployed to the Ukrainian border, and we see troop maneuvers in the neighborhood of Ukraine," said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a speech in London, The Associated Press reported. 

As many as 40,000 Russian troops had been deployed on the border after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March, leading to a tense standoff. Last month, though, U.S. officials reported Russian troops had begun returning home. 

"If they're deployed to seal the border and stop the flow of weapons and fighters that would be a positive step. But that's not what we're seeing," Rasmussen said. 

"I consider this a very regrettable step backwards and it seems that Russia keeps the option to intervene further," he added. 

The NATO chief urged the West to take a tough stand if Russia continued to pressure Ukraine.

"The international community would have to respond firmly if Russia were to intervene further,” said Rasmussen. “That would imply deeper sanctions which would have a negative impact on Russia.”

Moscow has pressured Kiev to grant ethnic Russians in the east of the country greater autonomy. The Obama administration has warned Russia of further sanctions if it intervenes in Ukraine.

Earlier this month Vice President Biden attended the inauguration of Ukraine’s new president to signal continued U.S. support.

Rasmussen was unequivocal in condemning Moscow, saying that "Russia's aggression against Ukraine is an attempt to rewrite international rules and recreate a sphere of influence."

He also said the international community faced a broad array of threats beyond Russia.

"At the same time, to our south, we see states or extreme groups using violence to assert their power. And overall, we see threats old and new, from piracy to terrorism to cyberattacks," said Rasmussen.

"The world that we helped to build after the end of the Cold War is being challenged in different ways and from different directions,” he said.