Russia invading Ukraine in ‘slow motion’: Harper
OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of mounting a “slow-motion” invasion of Ukraine as NATO’s supreme commander warned the international community’s military posture needs to strike the balance between resolve and not appearing provocative.
Harper’s latest broadside against the Russian leader came yesterday in Ottawa at the start of talks with U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, the western alliance’s operational commander in Europe.
Breedlove is embarking on two days of talks with Canadian political and military leaders just as heavy clashes erupt between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s eastern region.
Later yesterday, in a speech to diplomats and defence experts at the Canadian War Museum, Breedlove warned that the re-drawing of borders by force in Europe no longer is a thing of the past and the international community needs “to be better prepared for the next crisis, when it comes.”
Breedlove said NATO needs to ask itself some tough questions and among them is whether its forces are “positioned correctly.”
New members, such as Poland, have called for the basing of western troops on their soil as a deterrent.
At the same time, the narrative in Russia is that it’s adversaries are surrounding it—a fear that could be exacerbated as NATO flexes it muscles in a series measures and manoeuvres intended to reassure nervous Eastern European allies.
“What we have to do is build forces that reassure our allies, but are not necessarily provocative to the Russians,” said Breedlove, a former F-16 fighter pilot.
Earlier in the day, Breedlove met briefly with Harper, Defence minister Rob Nicholson, and Canada’s military commander, Gen. Tom Lawson.
The meetings were held against a backdrop of escalating violence in Ukraine, where the country’s elite troops have been dispatched to quell unrest in the key southern port city of Odessa.
Harper called the latest developments “very deeply concerning” and acknowledged NATO has asked for Canada’s support.
Breedlove said there’s no doubt Russian special forces are operating inside eastern Ukraine, in much the same manner they did in Crimea.
But he wasn’t prepared yesterday to accuse them of shooting down a Ukrainian helicopter near the eastern town of Slaviansk.
He said it’s known there are some ground-to-air missiles missing from a looted Ukrainian armoury, but the possible involvement of Russian forces is unclear.
The use of shadow troops with no clear uniform markings is something the international community—particularly the media—should have been prepared to call-out more forcefully at the beginning the annexation of Crimea, added Breedlove.
He also said when the conflict first erupted in February, questions about NATO’s relevance in the post-Cold War era evaporated overnight.
Still, his fear is that if the world doesn’t see Russian tanks rolling over the border, it eventually will lose interest and it will be business as usual.