NATO says Russia has big force at Ukraine’s border, worries over Transdniestria

n13-iconReuters reports: NATO’s top military commander said on Sunday that Russia had a large force on Ukraine’s eastern border and said he was worried it could pose a threat to Moldova’s mainly Russian-speaking separatist Transdniestria region.

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 neighboring 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.

“The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready,” Breedlove told an event held by the German Marshall Fund think-tank.

The president of ex-Soviet Moldova warned Russia last Tuesday 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. [Continue reading…]

Daniel Berman argues: Transnistria may well wish for annexation for Russia, but the likelihood of Russia acting on that request depends on a calculation of its future relationship with Kiev, and portents bode ill. The Russian annexation of Crimea has alienated Ukrainian opinion while removing one of the major reserves of Pro-Russian votes in Ukrainian elections. Any further annexations in the East will only exacerbate that problem and reinforce that lack of influence in Kiev. Moscow may be able to extract concessions, geopolitical neutrality, and Finlandization from Kiev, but those will be extracted by force, either economic or military. It is unlikely the Ukraine will see a genuinely Pro-Russian government for a generation.

Mike Giglio reports from eastern Ukraine: Uncertainty about Russia’s intentions looms in Kharkiv, and several residents put the chances of invasion at “50-50.” Fears that an invasion is imminent, though, have gradually eased since last week’s referendum in Crimea. And activists on both sides stressed that support for Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine is considerably less than it was in Crimea, where Russian troops faced little resistance. Many expected locals and Ukrainian troops alike to fight back if Russia tried to move in. “You can’t compare this to Crimea,” said Andrei Borodavka, a Kharkiv journalist and pro-Russia activist. “The Russians don’t want to kill Ukrainians or Ukrainian soldiers.”

Borodavka said he thought Russia would intervene only in the case of persistent violence — and on a far larger scale than the shootings that took place in Kharkiv on March 14, however much they may have jarred residents here.

Yet on the highways around Kharkiv, military vehicles could be seen making their way to the border, as the Kiev government moved to shore up its forces there. They would be little match for the Russians — in one glaring sign of the Ukrainian army’s weakness, Kharkiv activists were regularly delivering food and blankets to the under-supplied troops. Yet the army seemed determined at least not to be caught off guard.

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