NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe warns that Russia could 'accomplish its objectives in between 3 and 5 days' if ordered.
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"This is a very large and very capable and very ready force," NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told Reuters, referring to the estimated 40,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine. General Breedlove said the situation was “incredibly concerning,” and that Russia had the means – including aircraft, field hospitals, and electronic warfare capabilities – to "accomplish its objectives in between 3 and 5 days if directed to make actions.”
The motivation for an incursion could be to create easier land access to Crimea, and possibly beyond that to Ukraine’s Black Sea port, the NATO commander said.
On Tuesday, the 28-nation NATO alliance suspended its working relationship with Russia in protest of its annexation of Crimea last month. Russia protested the decision, which included drawing up heightened security plans in Eastern Europe, saying the move would only serve to hurt joint efforts to battle terrorism.
“It’s not hard to guess who will benefit from halting the joint work of Russia and NATO in countering modern threats,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website, according to Bloomberg. “In any case, it certainly won’t be Russia and the members of NATO.”
Yesterday, Russia’s Gazprom hiked natural gas prices in Ukraine, a tactic that The New York Times reports is commonly used by the state-controlled company to punish or pressure former Soviet countries at odds with the Kremlin’s politics. Gazprom stated that prices went up in Ukraine because of unpaid debts, and Kiev does owe the company billions in gas payments.
If Russia attempted any further annexations, NATO would need to rethink its “force positioning” and readiness, said Breedlove.
But not everyone is so sure Russia is prepared to repeat a Crimea-like takeover. The Christian Science Monitor’s Fred Weir reported this week that while there is little reason to trust Russia when it says it has no plans for further invasions – it said the same thing before entering Crimea – "Analysts say the numbers being bandied about by NATO do not jibe with Russian military doctrine."
"Any attempt to occupy eastern Ukraine would be far more complicated and on a much greater scale than the operation to secure Crimea was," says Alexander Golts, deputy editor of the liberal Yezhednevny Zhurnal, a leading military expert, and a critic of Putin. "At a very minimum the generals would want 100,000 troops."
Mr. Golts says that what NATO is observing is probably the "vestige" of Russia's big operation earlier this month to take Crimea…
Viktor Litovkin, a military expert with the official ITAR-Tass agency, says the Russian Army is more active than it was a few years ago, and it is not unusual to see troops and equipment moving around the countryside, staging exercises, in any part of Russia these days. "Armies are supposed to exercise, and that's what ours does year round," he says.
Another perspective comes from journalists who've toured Russia's borderland searching for the invasion army, and so far found no sign of it.
An NBC camera crew headed by veteran correspondent Jim Maceda covered 1,000 miles, or almost the full extent of the troubled Russo-Ukrainian frontier last week, often taking to back roads and poking their noses into spaces that might be suitable for hiding an armored division or two. The only troops they reported finding were located in established military bases and doing routine things like "latrine duty" and holding a "wrestling match."