NATO commander accuses Russia on Ukraine, pressing West
WASHINGTON — The top commander for NATO painted an increasingly grim picture Monday of the West’s deteriorating relationship with Russia, saying Moscow is effectively working to shift its border westward into Ukraine.
Gen. Philip Breedlove said Monday that Moscow’s actions are forcing the West to beef up its military capabilities, and Russia is discussing plans to put aircraft in Ukraine’s Crimea region that have a full range of capabilities, possibly including tactical nuclear weapons.
He added, however, that he has seen no indications that Russia is deploying such weapons to Crimea.
“Hybrid war is what we are coming to call what Russia has done clearly in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine,” Breedlove told a small group of Pentagon reporters, saying that Moscow has brought military, political and economic pressure on Ukraine, eroding the border and shifting it toward a line of demarcation farther west. “I’m concerned that the conditions are there that could create a frozen conflict,” one that brings a new reality.
Breedlove’s comments were made a day after contentious elections in eastern Ukraine on Sunday in which separatists voted for new leaders. The elections have been denounced as illegal by the United States and EU, and as undermining the two-month cease-fire agreement. That cease-fire, however, has been routinely violated, with fights between government and separatist forces raging daily in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Breedlove, the supreme allied commander for NATO, said about 250 to 300 Russian troops are in Ukraine training and equipping the Russian-backed separatists, and seven battalion task groups along the border. Some of those troops moved closer to the border as the election approached, and officials are waiting to see whether they fall back.
He added that Russian truck convoys are routinely crossing the border, including one that was poised to enter Ukraine on Sunday. He said he’s seen published reports that the convoy had crossed into Ukraine, but couldn’t confirm them.
“We have seen a general trend towards a hardening of this line of demarcation and much more softening of the actual Ukraine-Russia border,” said Breedlove, adding that the United States and other NATO allies are readjusting their approaches to Russia, recognizing Moscow is no longer a partner.
At the same time, Russia has inflamed tensions with the West by conducting a number of military flights over the Black, Baltic and North Seas and the Atlantic Ocean that have become more provocative in recent days. Officials have said the warplanes have been flying in more complex formations and going deeper south.