NATO general expresses concern over Putin's intentions in Moldova
A NATO general is warning that the build-up of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border may threaten a small separatist region of Moldova,
NATO's top military commander said on Sunday that Russia had built up a large force on Ukraine's eastern border and he was worried Moscow may be eyeing Moldova's mainly Russian-speaking separatist Transdniestria region after annexing Crimea.
NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, voiced concern about Moscow using a tactic of snap military exercises to prepare its forces for possible rapid incursions into a neighbouring state, as it had done in the case of Ukraine's Crimea region.
Russia launched a new military exercise, involving 8,500 artillery men, near Ukraine's border 10 days ago.
Breedlove said the Russian tactic should lead the 28-nation Western military alliance to rethink the positioning and readiness of its forces in eastern Europe so that they were ready to counter Moscow's moves.
"A snap exercise puts an incredible force at a border. The force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready," he said, speaking at an event held by the German Marshall Fund, a thinktank.
"You cannot defend against that if you are not there to defend against it. So I think we need to think about our allies, the positioning of our forces in the alliance and the readiness of those forces ... such that we can be there to defend against it if required, especially in the Baltics and other places."
Ukraine is not a NATO member, but Moscow's intervention in Crimea has caused alarm particularly in ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics, which are now members of NATO.
NATO had tried to make Russia a partner but "now it is very clear that Russia is acting much more like an adversary than a partner," Breedlove said.
He voiced concern that Russia could have Transdniestria in its sights after Crimea, saying that, in Russia's view, the separatist region of Moldova was the "next place where Russian-speaking people may need to be incorporated."
Moldova is another place where NATO is unlikely to shed any blood protecting. It's also a place that Putin can make his larger strategic point that ethnic Russian minorites need "protecting."
The Russians are denying that they have any designs on Transdniestria. Some background on the region:
The Transdniestria region of Moldova declared itself independent in 1990, although no countries in the United Nations recognize it. It's population of about 500,000 people is about one-third ethnic Russian, and some members of its parliament have urged Russia to annex region.
A morsel for Putin - hardly enough to whet his appetite. But in demonstrating the inability of the west to stop him, it's a three course meal.