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NATO Fears Russia Could Control Black Sea Region

NATO’s top commander warned on Wednesday that Russia’s militarization of the Crimean peninsula could allow Moscow to take control of the entire region. "We are very concerned with the militarization of Crimea. We are concerned that the capabilities in Crimea that are being installed will bring an effect on almost the entire Black Sea," Air ...

AFP / Genya Savilov
AFP / Genya Savilov

NATO’s top commander warned on Wednesday that Russia’s militarization of the Crimean peninsula could allow Moscow to take control of the entire region.

"We are very concerned with the militarization of Crimea. We are concerned that the capabilities in Crimea that are being installed will bring an effect on almost the entire Black Sea," Air Force General Philip Breedlove, head of the U.S. European Command and NATO supreme allied commander, said after meetings in Kiev with Ukrainian leaders.

Breedlove warned that Russian troops stationed on Ukraine’s border could mount a major incursion into Ukraine. Russian troops already in Ukraine were "training, equipping, giving backbone … helping [pro-Russian separatists] forces in the field," he said.

"This international border is completely wide open and maintained open by Russian forces, so that forces, supplies, money, fighters can move across at will," Breedlove added.

Russia denies its troops are in Ukraine, despite numerous reports that they have breached Ukraine’s borders and are assisting separatists there.

Breedlove added that the number of Russian military incursions into NATO members’ airspace, as well as the number of planes involved in these incursions, are on the rise. According to NATO, the alliance has conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft in 2014, three times the number of incursions conducted by the alliance in 2013.

"The number and pattern has changed, maybe as much as three times as much as we have seen before," Breedlove said. "Also, we see that some of these flights have increased in size, normally before seeing only one or two airplanes and now seeing groups of airplanes."

Breedlove’s comments come after Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the top commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, outlined details about Operation Atlantic Resolve, NATO’s plan to check Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. This includes creating a 4,000-troop rapid response team that would have access to supplies prepositioned across Eastern Europe.

Many U.S. lawmakers have called on the White House to arm Ukraine, which Russia has warned would significantly escalate the crisis. Tony Blinken, deputy U.S. national security advisor, recently said the White House has not ruled this out.

When asked about the possibility of providing Ukraine with lethal assistance, Breedlove said, "Nothing at this time is off the table."

"We are going to help Ukraine’s military to increase its capacities and capabilities through interaction with U.S. and European command," he said, adding that it "will make them ever more interoperable with our forces."

One option that is off the table is NATO membership for Ukraine. Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said his country would hold a referendum on Ukraine joining NATO at the end of the decade. But in Berlin Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government ruled out membership for Ukraine.

"NATO membership for Ukraine isn’t on the agenda at this point," Michael Grosse-Broemer, the parliamentary whip for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told Bloomberg

NATO’s top commander warned on Wednesday that Russia’s militarization of the Crimean peninsula could allow Moscow to take control of the entire region.

"We are very concerned with the militarization of Crimea. We are concerned that the capabilities in Crimea that are being installed will bring an effect on almost the entire Black Sea," Air Force General Philip Breedlove, head of the U.S. European Command and NATO supreme allied commander, said after meetings in Kiev with Ukrainian leaders.

Breedlove warned that Russian troops stationed on Ukraine’s border could mount a major incursion into Ukraine. Russian troops already in Ukraine were "training, equipping, giving backbone … helping [pro-Russian separatists] forces in the field," he said.

"This international border is completely wide open and maintained open by Russian forces, so that forces, supplies, money, fighters can move across at will," Breedlove added.

Russia denies its troops are in Ukraine, despite numerous reports that they have breached Ukraine’s borders and are assisting separatists there.

Breedlove added that the number of Russian military incursions into NATO members’ airspace, as well as the number of planes involved in these incursions, are on the rise. According to NATO, the alliance has conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft in 2014, three times the number of incursions conducted by the alliance in 2013.

"The number and pattern has changed, maybe as much as three times as much as we have seen before," Breedlove said. "Also, we see that some of these flights have increased in size, normally before seeing only one or two airplanes and now seeing groups of airplanes."

Breedlove’s comments come after Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the top commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, outlined details about Operation Atlantic Resolve, NATO’s plan to check Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. This includes creating a 4,000-troop rapid response team that would have access to supplies prepositioned across Eastern Europe.

Many U.S. lawmakers have called on the White House to arm Ukraine, which Russia has warned would significantly escalate the crisis. Tony Blinken, deputy U.S. national security advisor, recently said the White House has not ruled this out.

When asked about the possibility of providing Ukraine with lethal assistance, Breedlove said, "Nothing at this time is off the table."

"We are going to help Ukraine’s military to increase its capacities and capabilities through interaction with U.S. and European command," he said, adding that it "will make them ever more interoperable with our forces."

One option that is off the table is NATO membership for Ukraine. Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said his country would hold a referendum on Ukraine joining NATO at the end of the decade. But in Berlin Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government ruled out membership for Ukraine.

"NATO membership for Ukraine isn’t on the agenda at this point," Michael Grosse-Broemer, the parliamentary whip for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told Bloomberg

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