NATO warns of Russian threat to Moldova region

NATO warns of Russian threat to Moldova region

BRUSSELS - Reuters
NATO warns of Russian threat to Moldova region

Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, supply an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in front of a Ukrainian marine base in the Crimean port city of Feodosia. NATO has said Russia’s force at eastern Ukraine is ‘very sizeable.’ REUTERS photo

NATO’s top military commander said March 23 that 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, using armored vehicles, automatic weapons and stun grenades, seized the last military facilities under Ukrainian control in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsular that Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexed on March 21.

“The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready,” NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told an event held by the German Marshall Fund think-tank.

Russia’s seizure of Crimea, which has a majority Russian population, after the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president by mass protests has triggered the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

The United States and the European Union have targeted some of Putin’s closest political and business allies with personal sanctions and have threatened broader economic sanctions if Putin’s forces encroach on other eastern or southern parts of Ukraine with big Russian-speaking populations.

Breedlove said NATO was very concerned about the threat to Transdniestria, which declared independence from Moldova in 1990 but has not been recognized by any United Nations member state. About 30 percent of its half million population is ethnic Russian, which is the mother tongue of an overall majority.

Russia launched a new military exercise, involving 8,500 artillery men, near Ukraine’s border 10 days ago.

“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.

The president of ex-Soviet Moldova warned Russia on March 11 against considering any move to annex Transdniestria, which lies on Ukraine’s western border, in the same way that it has taken control of Crimea. The speaker of Transdniestria’s parliament had urged Russia earlier to incorporate the region.

Russia ‘complies’ laws

Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov was quoted by the state’s Itar-Tass news agency yesterday as saying that Russia was complying with international agreements limiting the number of troops near its border with Ukraine.

Moscow’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, also told Britain’s BBC television yesterday that Russia did not have any “expansionist views.”

Asked to give a commitment that Russian troops would not move into other Ukrainian territory outside the Crimea, Chizhov said: “There is no intention of the Russian Federation to do anything like that.”
U.S. Senator John McCain, a Republican foreign policy specialist, told the same BBC show that Putin’s actions in Ukraine were akin to those of Adolf Hitler in 1930s Germany.