Russian forces are still operating in eastern Ukraine, providing the backbone of separatist rebels fighting the Kiev government, NATO’s top military commander said on Wednesday after talks with Ukrainian leaders. U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, visiting Kiev as head of U.S. forces in Europe, said Russia’s “militarisation” of the Crimea peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in March meant Moscow could exert influence over almost the entire Black Sea region. Breedlove met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and others in the pro-Western leadership to discuss ways the United States could assist Kiev’s defence potential in the conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern territories.
We are very concerned with the militarisation of Crimea. The capabilities that are being installed in Crimea … are able to exert influence over the entire Black Sea.
Philip Breedlove, U.S. Air Force General
Breedlove highlighted the influx of coastal defence cruise missiles and surface-to-air rockets to the region. The United States also continued to watch for indications Russia might move “nuclear capabilities” onto the peninsula in line with a Russian defense ministry announcement last March, he said. Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday that it had deployed a batch of 14 military jets to Crimea as part of a squadron of 30 that will be stationed on the peninsula. Moscow fiercely rejects any claims that it is involved in the fighting in east Ukraine but gives open political backing to the rebels, who now boast the heavy weaponry of a regular army.