NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, has issued a warning about the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border while stressing that of NATO’s particular concern is the threat to Moldova’s Trans-Dniester region. In his words, Russia had built up a “very sizeable” force on its border with Ukraine and Moscow may even move to annex the breakaway region of Transdniestria. As Russia has been increasingly acting more like a dangerous adversary than a trusted partner, General Breedlove argued that the 28-nation alliance should rethink the positioning and readiness of its forces in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, also Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia warned that the risk of war with Russia was growing because “the problem with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is that he doesn’t want to talk to – not only to the Ukrainian government – but also to the Western leaders.’’
Some of the last military facilities under Ukrainian control in Crimea were seized by Russian troops, using armored vehicles, automatic weapons and stun grenades, on Saturday (22 March), following a formal annexation by Russia the day before. Breedlove was one of several Western officials and politicians who warned that Russia may not stop there in a crisis that has taken East-West relations lurching back towards the Cold War. General Breedlove’s warning that “the [Russian] force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready” was echoed in Washington where US President’s deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken suggested that Russian military build-up could be either aimed at intimidating Ukraine’s ne pro-Western leaders or a step towards an eventual invasion into the country’s mainly Russian-speaking east.
Mr Blinken also stressed that Obama’s administration was reviewing every request Ukraine was making for help while cautioning that even if assistance was forthcoming, it would be “very unlikely to change Russia’s calculus or prevent any invasion”. Importantly, President Barack Obama earlier ruled out sending US troops to Ukraine. Moscow formally annexed Crimea after the predominantly ethnic Russian region held a referendum which backed joining Russia. Kiev and the Western powers condemned the vote as “illegal”. Responding to the West’s mounting concerns, Moscow’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said Russia did not have “expansionist views” and “there is no intention of the Russian Federation to” move its forces into Ukrainian territory outside Crimea.”