NATO Commander: Moldova Could be Next if Russia Seeks to Expand Territorial Gains

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 23 2014 1:09 PM

NATO Commander: Moldova Could be Next if Russia Seeks to Expand Territorial Gains

480164093-sailors-walk-on-the-deck-of-the-russian-military-ship
Sailors walk on the deck of the Russian military ship Orsk moored in the bay of the Crimean city of Sevastopol

Photo by VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images

NATO’s top military commander said on Sunday that there was growing concern about the number of troops Russia has amassed on Ukraine’s eastern border, which could pose a particular threat to Moldova’s separatist Transdniestria region. The warning came a day after Russian forces finished seizing the last of the military installations in Crimea that continued to be under Ukrainian control. "The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready," NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told an event held by the German Marshall Fund think-tank, according to Reuters.

Ukraine’s east has long been considered under threat, but Breedlove’s suggested Sunday that Russia could have ambitions beyond Ukraine. NATO is particularly worried about Transdniestria, a strip of land between Moldova and southern Ukraine that declared independence in 1990. “Although the move was not recognized internationally, the region has its own constitution and currency, and pro-Russian sentiment there runs high. Russian forces are also stationed in the territory—as they were in Crimea even before the current crisis began,” details the Washington Post. The region has a population of about half a million, about one-third of whom are ethnic Russian.

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Russia immediately responded, insisting its forces east of Ukraine are complying with international agreements. The Russian ambassador to the European Union told the BBC that Russia does not have an “expansionist view,” emphasizing that “nobody should fear Russia.” The words came as Russia was finalizing its takeover of Crimea as it stormed air bases Saturday as well as Ukrainian ships.

The White House is also worried. "It's deeply concerning to see the Russian troop buildup along the border. It creates the potential for incidents, for instability," Tony Blinken, White House deputy national security adviser, told CNN on Sunday. "It's likely that what they are trying to do is intimidate the Ukrainians. It's possible that they are preparing to move in."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote an op-ed piece for the Telegraph in which he describes Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “the most serious risk to European security we have seen so far in the 21st century.” As a result of Moscow’s “outrageous land grab,” Russia “risks once again bending towards isolation and stagnation.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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