NATO’s military commander accused Russia Wednesday of irresponsibly stepping up its nuclear threats and using threatening language, which he said were intended to stun NATO and make the alliance think twice before responding to Russia’s actions.
US Air Force General Philip Breedlove warned that all nuclear nations had to be extremely careful in both their actions and words, and added that the Kremlin was deliberately using threatening language in a an attempt to “give pause to NATO’s decision-making”.
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“This discussion of nukes and the possibility of moving nukes into certain areas or employing nukes if something had not gone correctly in Crimea and all these other things, which have been put out there — this is not responsible language from a nuclear nation,” NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe said at meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Antalya, Turkey.
General Breedlove also expressed his and NATO’s concern over Russia’s recent stepped up offensive on some areas of eastern Ukraine despite the fragile Minsk ceasefire agreement.
Breedlove said that there was a “pattern” developing, which seemed similar to previous offensives by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine who took advantage of ceasefires in order to beef up their strength before carrying out a new attack on Ukraine’s territory.
He added that he couldn’t judge the intentions of “the Russians that are leading these forces.”
Russia, however, has been repeatedly denying all the accusations of its support of separatist in eastern Ukraine and accuses Ukraine’s government and president, who has been in power for almost a year now, of violating the fragile ceasefire
Russia denies providing any troops or arms to support rebellion in eastern Ukraine and accuses Kiev of violating the current ceasefire.
Russia threatened to target Denmark with its nuclear missiles
The reason for such comments by the NATO’s General are the fact that Russian officials have been actively referring to Moscow’s nuclear arsenal and capabilities while tensions with the West, and particularly the US, have been escalating.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in turn, confessed back in March that Russia was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert to ensure the annexation of Crimea. Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to Denmark said Russian nuclear missiles could be aimed at Danish navy ships in case the country decided to join NATO’s missile defense system.
Gen Breedlove’s comments were reinforced in a NATO joint statement with Ukraine, which stated that the foreign ministers were “deeply concerned by statements of the Russian leadership with regard to possible future stationing of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems in Crimea, which would be destabilizing.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told at a news conference that “the messages by the Russian side about the … possibility of placing nuclear weapons in Crimea is a complete breach of international obligations.”
Speaking on the military situation in eastern Ukraine, Breedlove said the port city of Mariupol and nearby Shyrokyne had both witnessed intense shelling and fighting in the last few days. “This is a very fragile ceasefire and we need to return to a ceasefire situation.”
“I think that what we see is a pattern that matches previous patterns during ceasefires … We see training, we see re-equipping, we see new forces, new money, organization, increased command and control, all these things are in a pattern across the past several times where we have seen a push (offensive).”
Moment of opportunity
In a statement after a four-hour meeting with Putin on Tuesday, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, expressed him opinion that Russia was coming to a “critical” moment to fulfil the obligations in the ceasefire agreed in Minsk earlier this year.
While emphasizing on the “enormous moment of opportunity” for Russia to end a fighting in eastern Ukraine, Kerry gave no details on any potential breakthrough in his talks with Russian President in Sochi.
“I think there was strong agreement among all of the NATO members that this is a critical moment for action by Russia, by the separatists, to live up to the Minsk agreement.”
He also said that is was “critical” for observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to be allowed into the conflict areas to monitor that both sides are adhering to the ceasefire agreement.
“We condemn Russia’s ongoing and wide-ranging military build-up in Crimea and are concerned by Russia’s efforts and stated plans for a further military build up in the Black Sea region,” the statement said.
The tensions between NATO and Russia escalate
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the current tensions between NATO’s member states and the Kremlin should not be viewed as a new Cold War.
As it was reported earlier, NATO has launched its large-scale military drills in Europe amid growing Vladimir Putin’s military aggression.
These war games will include thousands of troops and are taking place in Estonia, Lithuania (both the Baltic states) and Norway. The operation, which is codenamed Dynamic Mongoose, involves forces from the United States, Britain, Germany, Latvia, Poland and Sweden.
The military drills were launched on Monday and are expected to last for two weeks.
“I think it’s not a right thing to characterize the present situation as Cold War,” Stoltenberg said at the same summit in Antalya, the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass reports. “We are not in the same situation as we were during the Cold War period after the Second World War until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 [actually 1989].”
Russia, in turn, has stepped its military maneuvers as well. Moscow has recently ordered an expansion of long-range bomber patrols, while the country’s forces have conducted numerous drills in areas as remote as the Arctic Circle.