Calling the situation "incredibly concerning", NATO's supreme
allied commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove,
said NATO had spotted signs of movement by a very small part of the
Russian force overnight but had no indication that it was returning
Russia's seizure and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region has
caused the deepest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War,
leading the United States and Europe to impose sanctions on Moscow.
They have said they will strengthen those sanctions if Russia moves
beyond Crimea into east Ukraine.
NATO military chiefs are concerned that the Russian force on the
Ukrainian border, which they estimate stands at 40,000 soldiers,
could pose a threat to eastern and southern Ukraine.
"This is a very large and very capable and very ready force,"
Breedlove said in an interview with Reuters and The Wall Street
The Russian force has aircraft and helicopter support as well as
field hospitals and electronic warfare capabilities.
"The entire suite that would be required to successfully have an
incursion into Ukraine should the decision be made," Breedlove said.
"We think it is ready to go and we think it could accomplish its
objectives in between 3 and 5 days if directed to make the actions."
He said Russia could have several potential objectives, including an
incursion into southern Ukraine to establish a land corridor to
Crimea, pushing beyond Crimea to Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odessa
or even threatening to connect to Transdniestria, the mainly
Russian-speaking, separatist region of Moldova that lies to the west
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Russia also has forces to the north and northeast of Ukraine that
could enter eastern Ukraine if Moscow ordered them to do so,
Breedlove said. Any such actions would have far-reaching
implications for NATO, a military alliance of 28 nations that has
been the core of European defense for more than 60 years.
"We are going to have to look at how our alliance now is prepared
for a different paradigm, a different rule set... We will need to
rethink our force posture, our force positioning, our force
provisioning, readiness, etc," Breedlove said.
NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels this week suspended all
practical cooperation with Russia in protest at its actions in
Crimea and asked military commanders to draw up plans to reinforce
NATO members in eastern Europe that are fearful about a threat from
Breedlove said the ministers had asked him to draw up by April 15 a
package of measures that would include reinforcements by land, air
"We will work on air, land and sea 'reassurances' and we will look
to position those 'reassurances' across the breadth of our exposure:
north, centre, and south," he said.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Luke Baker)
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