The highest-ranking General of NATO forces in Europe, Philip Breedlove, said on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not fulfill Moscow’s responsibilities in eastern Ukraine, rather it has been building up further military presence in the Ukrainian border by keeping open its military options.
The US general claimed that the Russian border with Ukraine was "wide open," enabling free movement of equipment and supplies as well as military support.
By referencing the separatist regions and sporadic conflicts, Breedlove said, "We see a force that has been trained, that is led by Russian leadership,... and is ready to do whatever mission is required of it in the Donbass [region]."
"I don’t think Mr Putin is done in eastern Ukraine," Breedlove told reporters in Brussels where the NATO defence ministers were gathered to discuss Russia’s military presence both in Ukraine and eastern Europe as a whole.
The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also warned Russia during the preamble speech to the ministerial meeting on Wednesday and said the annexation of Crimea was "an act of aggression" by Moscow, adding that the alleged Russian military activities regarding the eastern Ukraine conflicts were “unacceptable” by the Euro-Atlantic allies.
"Russia continues to send troops, forces and supplies into eastern Ukraine. There is no doubt that Russia is responsible for aggressive actions in Europe," Stoltenberg said.
In a phone call with Putin on late Thursday, the US President Barack Obama told Putin that Russia had to fulfill required measures of the ceasefire in Ukraine "including the removal of all Russian troops and equipment from Ukrainian territory" the White House said.
But, Russia denies such allegations and accusations made by both Kiev and the NATO bloc and says that its soldiers have only been patrolling the porous borders with the eastern Ukraine where the separatist war had caused the death of almost 6,450 people in one year.
Putin stated last week that Russia was still committing the Minsk truce with Ukraine which he perceives as balanced and fair and said if Russia did not agree with its contents, it would not have signed it.
"Without the Minsk agreements I am really afraid that the situation can deteriorate even more," Stoltenberg told a news conference on Wednesday in Brussels as he paid attention to the significance of abiding by the truce in the Donbass region by the belligerents.
Meanwhile, the US Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work claimed on Thursday that Russia was “playing with fire” through violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which ended the nuclear warfare between the US and the former Soviet Union as it was signed between the then US president Ronald Reagan and the Soviet supreme leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.
"Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire," Work said.
"Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation," he added.
The relations between NATO and Russia have been at odds since Moscow seized Crimea and allegedly supported separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
The NATO ministerial meeting just came one week after the Russian president said Moscow would add 40 missiles to its nuclear arsenal.
The Kremlin has long been accusing NATO of militarising the member countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltics neighbouring with Russia, hereby, changing the strategic power balance on its borders.
But Stoltenberg said in yesterday meeting the Euro-Atlantic Alliance does not want to get dragged into an arms race with Russia, but it would only resume to enhance defence capabilities that are required for the collective security of its member countries.
Putin did not step back on Thursday when he said Russia needs a mighty military to fend off threats near its borders posed by the NATO alliance.
Despite the harsh criticism in the West, Putin’s ratings of approval are believed to have reached up all-time high nowadays as the NATO increased military pressure over Moscow.
"A powerful army equipped with modern weapons is the guarantor of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia," the Russian president said during a Thursday speech at the Kremlin meeting with graduates of Russian military academies.
The West has been striving to dissuade Russia from its military presence by through counterbalancing Moscow with its increased military presence towards the edge of Russian borders where the constituent states of the former Soviet Union had currently become members in the Euro-Atlantic alliance.
The NATO member countries in Eastern Europe have warmly welcomed a US-led arms deployment on their soils as the US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter confirmed that the Pentagon will deploy tanks and heavy artilaries near the Russian borders when he visited the Estonian capital Tallinn on Tuesday.
The Kremlin has vehemently reacted to Washington’s drive to deploy NATO member states near its borders and announced that the proposed US move would be the most dangerous act since the Cold War to which it could immediately retaliated by beefing up its own forces.
Russian leadership regarded the US military drives as a breach to the 1997 Founding Act with NATO which bans the permanent deployment of significant forces and military equipments in the states formerly placed under the security umbrella of Warsaw Pact.
However, Stoltenberg stated that the NATO’s military deployment would be rotational and temporarily and aimed to eliminate defence vulnerabilities of its member states in Eastern Europe where the regional governments have long been worrying over whether the Kremlin will target themselves next in the wake of Ukraine conflicts.