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Putin Aims to Destabilize Ukraine, Former US Envoy Says

  • Meredith Buel

Ukrainian servicemen deploy a weapon at the beach of the Azov Sea in Shyrokyne, eastern Ukraine, April 15, 2015.

Ukrainian servicemen deploy a weapon at the beach of the Azov Sea in Shyrokyne, eastern Ukraine, April 15, 2015.

A former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine says recent military moves by Russia show that President Vladimir Putin's "minimal goal is to destabilize the current government" in Ukraine.

John Herbst, who now directs the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, said from Kyiv that Putin is seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Ukraine, "and in order to do that, he can’t simply sit behind the cease-fire line. He needs to move forward to cause additional instability in the country.”

Moscow has long denied charges by Kyiv and many Western governments that it has supported rebels in eastern Ukraine with military personnel and weapons.

But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the Russians had moved a significant amount of military equipment along the Ukrainian border as well as inside eastern Ukraine. "They have provided the separatists with well above a thousand pieces of heavy equipment, advanced weapon systems, advanced air defenses, tanks, artillery,” he said.

The latest moves, he said, violated the European-brokered truce signed in February in Belarus and gave the separatists "the capacity to launch a new, big offensive with very little warning time.”

The United States and European Union have slapped sanctions on Moscow, and the U.S. has sent military trainers to Ukraine. Herbst said Washington should do more.

“I think the White House has been slow to recognize the danger that Mr. Putin’s revisionist policies represent," he said. "We should have decided months ago to provide weapons to Ukraine. We should have a much stronger policy within NATO to draw a very strong red line so that the Kremlin does not play games, provocative games in the Baltic states.”

Fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine has killed more than 6,000 people and displaced a million others.

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