NATO’s top military commander yesterday said Russia had a large force on Ukraine’s eastern border and he was worried it could pose a threat to Moldova’s separatist Transdniestria region.
The warning comes a day after Russian troops seized the last military facilities under Kiev’s control in Crimea, the peninsula that Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexed on Friday.
“The [Russian] force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready,” NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told an event held by the German Marshall Fund think tank.
The seizure of the Crimean Peninsula after pro-Kremlin former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by protests has bred the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
The US and EU have targeted some of Putin’s closest allies with personal sanctions and threatened broader economic sanctions if Kremlin forces encroach on other parts of Ukraine with significant Russian-speaking populations.
Breedlove said NATO was worried about the threat to Transdniestria, which declared independence from Moldova in 1990, but has not been recognized by any UN member state. About 30 percent of its 500,000-strong population are ethnic Russian, the native tongue of the overall majority.
“There is absolutely sufficient [Russian] force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transdniestria if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome,” Breedlove said.
Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying Russia was complying with international agreements limiting the number of troops near its border with Ukraine, as Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told the BBC Moscowheld no “expansionist views.”
Asked to give a commitment that Russian troops would not move into other Ukrainian territory, Chizhov said: “There is no intention of the Russian Federation to do anything like that.”
US Senator John McCain told the same BBC show: “I think he [Putin] is calculating how much he can get away with, just as Adolf Hitler calculated how much he could get away with in the 1930s.