News / Europe

    NATO Commander Warns of Russian Threat to Transdniestria

    FILE - NATO Commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove.
    FILE - NATO Commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove.
    VOA News
    NATO's top military commander said on Sunday that Russia had built up a large force on Ukraine's eastern border and he was worried Moscow may be eyeing Moldova's mainly Russian-speaking separatist Transdniestria region after annexing Crimea.

    "There is absolutely sufficient (Russian) force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transdniestria if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome,'' NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told an event held by the German Marshall Fund think-tank. "The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready.''

    The warning comes a day after Russian troops fired shots and used armored vehicles to smash through the gates of Belbek air base Saturday. Ukrainian forces offered no resistance. They sang their country's national anthem before putting their weapons into storage.

    At least one Ukrainian soldier was wounded. Some reporters and cameramen covering the takeover were roughed up by Russian soldiers and had their equipment seized, including those working for VOA.

    Russian forces also took over a Ukrainian naval base in Novofedorovka.

    FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and visiting Belarus' counterpart Alexander Lukashenko speak to each other a meeting in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, Dec. 25, 2013.FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and visiting Belarus' counterpart Alexander Lukashenko speak to each other a meeting in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, Dec. 25, 2013.
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    FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and visiting Belarus' counterpart Alexander Lukashenko speak to each other a meeting in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, Dec. 25, 2013.
    FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and visiting Belarus' counterpart Alexander Lukashenko speak to each other a meeting in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, Dec. 25, 2013.
    Earlier Sunday, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday blasted Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea as setting a "bad precedent.''

    A close ally of Moscow, Lukashenko told reporters in Minsk that Crimea was now "de facto'' a part of the Russian Federation.  He nonetheless said that Ukraine should remain "a single, indivisible, integral, non-bloc state.''

    British Foreign Secretary William Hague, writing in the Telegraph newspaper, said Britain and its allies must be ready for different relations with Russia than what they have enjoyed during the last 20 years. Hague said this would include restricting military cooperation and arms sales to Russia.

    Meanwhile, Kyiv is bracing for a unity rally Sunday, a day after Russian forces seized the last major Ukrainian military base in Crimea.

    In Kyiv Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, for his "real leadership." Ban said he admired the prime minister's call for "inclusiveness and reconciliation."

    • Priests from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church offer prayers to kick off a national unity rally. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • A paramilitary officer shows off the large tent in which he has been living for the past four months in Kyiv's central square. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • Two men sit atop an armored personnel carrier in downtown Kyiv. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • A man wearing a Ukranian flag listens to speakers at a unity rally in Maidan, central Kyiv. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • Hundreds remain encamped in central Kyiv's Maidan (Independence Square) even after the old government was ousted. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • A large burnt-out office building sits adjacent to the Maidan, where violent protests led to the ouster of Ukraine's government. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • Participants at a unity rally in central Kyiv unfurl a giant flag. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • Visitors to Maidan look at a makeshift memorial for two of the more than 100 people killed in anti-government protests earlier this year. (Steve Herman/VOA)


    Also in Kyiv Saturday was Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- the first G7 leader to visit Mr. Yatsenyuk in Ukraine. Harper said Canadians are impressed by the restraint Ukraine is showing despite what he calls Russia's "obvious provocations."

    Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte is leading a congressional delegation on a visit to Kiyv Sunday. Ayotte has called for more U.S. aid to Ukraine.

    Some information in this report comes from Reuters.

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