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Further Russian Intervention in Ukraine Would Be 'Historic Mistake' - NATO

by VOA News April 02, 2014

Further Russian intervention in Ukraine, following its annexation of Crimea, would be a "historic mistake" that would deepen Russia's international isolation, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Wednesday.

"If Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine, I wouldn't hesitate to call it an historic mistake. That would lead to further international isolation of Russia. It would have far reaching consequences for the relations between Russia and ... the Western world. It would be a miscalculation with huge strategic implications," he told a news conference after a meeting of alliance foreign ministers.

'Very ready force'

Russia has massed all the forces it needs on Ukraine's border if it were to decide to carry out an "incursion" into the country and it could achieve its objective 'in three to five days,' NATO's top military commander said on Wednesday.

"This is a very large and very capable and very ready force," said NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, referring to the presence of an estimated 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's border.

Calling the situation "incredibly concerning", 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 to barracks. ​​

Breedlove made his remarks an interview with Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

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.

NATO military chiefs are concerned that the Russian troops on Ukraine's border could pose a threat to eastern and southern Ukraine.

Breedlove 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 of Ukraine.

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.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday that it would be a historic mistake for Russia to intervene further in Ukraine.

Return to Cold War mode

Russia is accusing NATO of slipping back into Cold War thinking by suspending cooperation with Russia over its seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region.

Russia is accusing NATO of reverting to Cold War rhetoric and tactics by suspending cooperation with Russia over its seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region.

Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement Wednesday that NATO's language on the issue resembled 'the verbal jousting of the Cold War era.'

​​NATO foreign ministers announced Tuesday during a summit on Ukraine taking place in Brussels that they would officially end all civilian and military cooperation with Russia. They said they do not recognize its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and urged Russia to immediately comply with international law.

Diplomatic channels between NATO and Moscow remain open.

U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry discussed the crisis with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in a brief telephone call this morning.

According to a State Department official, Kerry used the call to convey the strong support he was hearing for the people of Ukraine and the legitimate government of Ukraine from his counterparts during the NATO meeting in Brussels.

Kerry also reiterated the objective of de-escalating tensions in Ukraine, including through direct engagement between Ukrainian and Russian officials, and the return of Russian troops to their barracks, the official said.

Meanwhile, ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February, told the Associated Press Wednesday that he was 'wrong' to invite Russian troops into Crimea. He called the situation 'a major tragedy' and vowed to work for the return of Crimea to Ukraine.

Yanukovych said he had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a 'calm' but 'difficult' conversation about Ukraine, adding that Crimea should remain part of Ukraine while having as much independence as possible.

VOA's Scott Stearns contributed to this story; some reporting by Reuters



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