NATO’s top military commander is worried about Russia’s built up of force on Ukraine’s eastern border. The military alliance’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove is concerned that after Crimea, Moldova’s separatist Transdniestria region might be next to be annexed by Moscow.
“…There is absolutely sufficient force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transdniestria if the decision was made to do that. And that’s very worrisome,” the NATO commander told an event held by the German Marshall Fund think-tank.
Russia has 440 peacekeepers in Transdniestria plus other soldiers guarding Soviet-era arms stocks. It launched a new military exercise, involving 8,500 artillery men, near Ukraine’s eastern 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.
About 30 percent of Transdniestria’s population is ethnic Russian and more than half of the total speak Russian as a mother tongue.
The speaker of Transdniestria’s parliament wants Russia to incorporate the region, which lies to the west of Ukraine.
Leaders in Kyiv fear Moscow could link up pro-Russian regions in Moldova and Georgia, in a destabilising southern corridor with Crimea in the middle.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “…what is important is that we send a very clear message to our NATO partners and allies that we believe in NATO and that we believe in their security. That is why for instance we are helping some of the Baltic states with their defence and their needs. That is what we should be doing and that is what we are very much committed to doing.”
One of the Baltic states, Latvia, has a big Russian minority. Fjodor Dubinin is a local man who lives in Daugavpils, a Latvian town where 51 percent of the population are Russian. But he’s happy.
“I don’t think we will turn for help to Putin. We live normal lives, I can walk around the city, no one says anything bad to me, and I don’t say anything bad to anyone,” said Dubinin.
Washington said it’s considering all requests for military assistance from Kyiv, but that it would be unlikely to prevent an invasion of Ukraine, which is not part of NATO.
General Breedlove said NATO needs to think about its eastern members, particularly the former Soviet Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which have been alarmed at Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.