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Now Russians want to invade Moldova.. Nato's military chief in dire warning on Putin's land grab plan as troops gather.

Byline: WILL STEWART

WARNINGS were sounded yesterday that Russia could invade part of pro-Western Moldova as well as further regions in Ukraine.

Nato's top military commander in Europe issued a blunt alert that Vladimir Putin's large military force was "very, very sizeable and very, very ready" and could roll westward at any moment.

His words were echoed by US President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser who accused Moscow of intimidating Kiev by massing troops on the border, stressing: "It's possible they are preparing to move in."

Tony Blinken also revealed the US is looking at military assistance for Ukraine but "it's very unlikely to change Russia's calculus and prevent an invasion".

This warning came as Crimea rebel leader Sergei Aksyonov - feted last week by the Kremlin - issued a "call to fight" to ethnic Russians in Ukraine's eastern and southern regions.

With fears escalating over the Crimean crisis deepening into a full-blown military conflict, Kiev foreign minister Andrii Deshchytsia said the prospects of war between his country and Russia "are growing".

He said: "We don't know what Putin has in his mind and what would be his decision. That's why this situation is becoming even more explosive than it was a week ago."

The assessment from Nato's Supreme Allied Commander Europe US Air Force General Philip Breedlove will act as a wake-up call to those who doubted the seriousness and speed of the developing emergency on the EU's eastern flank.

He pinpointed a breakaway pro-Russian region in Moldova - Transdniestria (or Transnistria) - as Putin's next probable target, seemingly discounting assurances from Moscow it will not make a further land grab of territory that was part of the Soviet and tsarist empires. Leaders of the separatist region - kept afloat by Russian financial muscle - made clear in recent days they want a Crimeanstyle integration by the Kremlin. Moscow already has around 1,300 soldiers in this self-declared state over which Moldova has no control though it is this country's territory under international law.

Kiev's National Security and Defence Council chief Andriy Parubiy yesterday warned Putin's intentions were "not Crimea, but all of Ukraine".

He claimed: "His troops massed at the border are ready to attack at any moment.

"In Putin's morbid imagination, Ukraine should be part of Russia."

Parubiy also said pro-Moscow "extremists" were now active in eight regions - including the strategic cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Odessa, "trying to seize regional administration buildings to repeat the Crimean scenario and give grounds for deployment of Russian troops". Kiev claimed nine "separatist leaders" were arrested yesterday.

While warnings of an imminent Russian invasion have been made previously, they were stronger than ever yesterday.

They come as world leaders meet for a nuclear security summit in The Hague on Monday, with Putin absent.

Russia's defence ministry claimed at least 189 military facilities in Crimea were flying Russian flags last night.

Yesterday even Russia's closest ally Belarus warned Russia had set a "bad precedent" with its annexation of Crimea.

news@irishmirror.ie

CAPTION(S):

SEIZED Russian troops enter the Ukraine's marine HQ

vocal support Pro-Russian demo in Odessa yesterday
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Mar 24, 2014
Words:513
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