NATO Commander Says Russia Doesn’t Need to Invade to Take Over Eastern Ukraine

Moscow may be able to annex parts of eastern Ukraine without an overt military incursion.

Air Force General Philip M. Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command. 
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
May 2, 2014, 10:47 a.m.

Rus­sia does not need to in­vade Ukraine to take over east­ern parts of the coun­try, NATO’s top mil­it­ary com­mand­er said Fri­day.

In­stead, Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin may be able to an­nex pieces of Ukraine simply by en­cour­aging un­rest among pro-Rus­si­an forces in­side the coun­try, said Air Force Gen. Philip Breed­love, who com­mands U.S. and European NATO forces.

“As little as a week and a half, two weeks ago, I would have put mil­it­ary in­cur­sion as the most likely out­come,” Breed­love told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “Now, I don’t take that op­tion off the table — [Putin] can still use it, his force is im­min­ently pre­pared to do that — but he may be able to ac­com­plish his ob­ject­ives with simply the un­rest his forces are caus­ing in east­ern Ukraine right now.”

Rus­sia has tens of thou­sands of troops sta­tioned along the bor­der un­der the aus­pices of a mil­it­ary ex­er­cise. Ukraine has ac­cused its neigh­bor of in­filt­rat­ing with gun­men mas­quer­ad­ing as loc­al mil­it­ants to seize build­ings and ter­rit­ory in east­ern Ukraine.

While Rus­sia denies this, Breed­love agrees the un­rest in Ukraine is “ab­so­lutely or­ches­trated and em­powered by Rus­sia.” If Putin con­tin­ues to suc­ceed in fo­ment­ing un­rest, and “dis­trust in the Kiev gov­ern­ment,” Breed­love said, “Putin “¦ may nev­er now have to come across the bor­der with the lar­ger land ele­ments.”

What’s hap­pen­ing now in east­ern Ukraine looks eer­ily fa­mil­i­ar to what happened in Crimea. Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Mar­ina Koren de­tails Rus­sia’s emer­ging play­book for an­nex­ing an­oth­er coun­try’s ter­rit­ory. Un­marked troops once flooded in­to Crimea just as they are seiz­ing parts of east­ern Ukraine now. At first, there were only sus­pi­cions, not of­fi­cial con­firm­a­tion, that they were backed by Mo­scow. Only after Crimea was an­nexed did Putin own up to send­ing troops to oc­cupy and an­nex the ter­rit­ory.

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