KYIV/MOSCOW (BosNewsLife)– Western leaders have expressed concern that Russia may move into other regions after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, where at least one person was injured this weekend in a Russian takeover of two Ukrainian bases. NATO and German officials said Sunday, March 23, the conflict could expand to eastern parts of Ukraine, and even the nearby former Soviet republic of Moldova.
The top commander of the NATO military alliance warned Russia wants more than just Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said he was worried about a large Russian force on Ukraine’s eastern border. “The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready,” Breedlove said.
Breedlove said those troops pose a threat to Moldova’s mainly Russian-speaking separatist Transdniiestria region.
He told a Brussels meeting of the German Marshall Fund think-tank that recent military exercises involving 8.500 artillery men, were aimed at preparing Russian troops for possible rapid incursions into a neighboring state.
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.
Besides Moldova, officials in eastern regions of Ukraine also fear a similar Russian take-over as in Crimea, explained German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who visited the Ukrainian city of Donetsk.
“We have heard very clearly today the very strong wish, that the new Ukraine should be a united Ukraine and there should be no break up,” he said, adding that there should be no new divisions in post-Communist Europe.
Steinmeier said 400 observers from the Europesan security organization OSCE would soon arrive in the region to monitor the situation, following recent political violence.
Yet, Moscow’s ambassador to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov said “nobody has anything to fear” from Russia.
However he did not completely rule out Russian military actions elsewhere in the region, suggesting only his country had no intention to invade other areas.
“I am not the commander-in-chief,” he said. “The situation in Ukraine is of course a source of concern to everybody including Russia. And we certainly hope it to be settled by peaceful me3ans taking into account the legitimate interests of all people living in Ukraine, all the ethnic groups, and all the regions of Ukraine and we are ready to help,” the official stressed.
His remarks did little to ease concerns in neighboring countries.
Adding to their worries was Sunday’s announcement by Russia that its flag is now flying over 189 Ukrainian military installations in Crimea, after President Vladimir Putin signed laws completing Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula.