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Top NATO Commander: Putin Creating New Border Between Ukraine and Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin once again is redrawing a national boundary by creating a demarcation line around eastern Ukraine that’s fast becoming a de facto border between the two countries, NATO’s top military official said. "Clearly we see one border that remains absolutely porous and enables a dense cooperation, training and equipping of Russian-backed forces ...

Saul Loeb/AFP
Saul Loeb/AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin once again is redrawing a national boundary by creating a demarcation line around eastern Ukraine that’s fast becoming a de facto border between the two countries, NATO’s top military official said.

"Clearly we see one border that remains absolutely porous and enables a dense cooperation, training and equipping of Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine," U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, who also runs the military’s European Command, told a small group of reporters in Washington, referring to the current Russian-Ukraine boundary.

Breedlove said the dynamic is a replay of what happened in Crimea after Russian forces invaded and annexed the Ukrainian territory earlier this year. Putin, Breedlove said, was using the new borders to set "a situation that could develop into a frozen conflict" between Moscow and the Western-backed Ukrainian government in Kiev.

As many as 300 Russian forces are on Ukrainian territory offering training and expertise but not engaged in fighting, Breedlove said at a separate Pentagon news conference Monday.

In a strikingly candid admission, the U.S. general said that there was little the NATO alliance could do military to stop Russia’s steady incursion into Ukraine. Instead, the U.S. and its NATO partners are reassessing a decade of their decisions that were predicated on Russia becoming a friendlier nation after the fall of the Soviet Union, he said.

After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, we "made a series of force structure, policy and budgetary decisions across the last 12-14 years that were all tied to a partner in Russia," Breedlove said. "Our allies have done the same. Now we are in the process of readjusting our approach to Russia."

One of the changes the 28-nation alliance is undertaking is changing the mission of its NATO Response Force – a quickly deployable military unit – to "meet this new revanchist Russia in what we call a hybrid war we are facing now," Breedlove said.

Breedlove said that Russia has effectively used all elements of its national power – diplomatic, military, and economic – to successfully conquer both Crimea and, in 2008, a pair of breakaway regions of Georgia.

The latest example was this weekend’s balloting in eastern Ukraine that ended with Alexander Zakharchenko, a 38-year old former electrician, being named as the leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Reuters reported. The vote, orchestrated and run by the pro-Russian separatists who had seized the area in April, was immediately denounced as a sham by Kiev and other Western nations.

It’s unclear if Putin will recognize the vote, but Western observers say the Russian leader could make his intentions clear Tuesday when he appears at a Red Square ceremony in Moscow marking National Unity Day, a Russian holiday, Reuters reported.

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