Tag Archives: Ukraine

Congress Seeks U.S. Military Response to Russian Treaty Violation

Congress Seeks U.S. Military Response to Russian Treaty Violation

Administration ignores Moscow’s illegal nuclear cruise missile

Vladimir Putin

BY:

The House Armed Services Committee approved legislation last week that would require the Pentagon to deploy new weapons in two years to counter Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

The fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill considered by the committee last week contains language that directs the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to evaluate and develop new U.S. and allied weapons in response to Russia’s failure to explain its new intermediate-range cruise missile.

The legislation, contained in the $604.2 billion authorization bill, states that the U.S. government has been negotiating with Russia since 2013 on the violation and to date “the Russian Federation has failed to respond to these efforts in any meaningful way.”

“For years, we’ve been urging the Obama administration to get serious about Russia’s violation of the INF treaty,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the subcommittee on strategic forces.

“Its response: we’re talking to Russia,” said Rogers, who sponsored the provision. “While Obama talks, Putin cheats on treaties and invades his neighbors. We must take Russia’s actions seriously, and this authorization of DOD funding does just that. The United States will not be unilaterally bound by any treaty.”

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO commander, said the Russian INF violation “can’t go unanswered.”

“We need to first and foremost signal that we cannot accept this change and that, if this change is continued, that we will have to change the cost calculus for Russia in order to help them to find their way to a less bellicose position,” Breedlove said. His remarks, made in April 2014, were quoted in the bill.

Additionally, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month that the United States must make clear to Russia that there will be political, diplomatic, and “potentially military costs” for the treaty violation. “It concerns me greatly,” Dempsey has said.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated during his Senate nomination hearing in February that options were being studied. He warned Russia that treaty limits were a “two-way street” and suggested the U.S. military could build missiles that it agreed not to build under the 1987 accord.

The bill would require the president to submit formal notification to Congress within 30 days on Russia’s testing and deployment of missiles that violate the treaty and on whether Moscow has begun to take steps for full compliance and verification to correct any violations.

If Russia fails to return to full compliance, with inspections and verification, the Pentagon should begin preparing “military response options,” the legislation states.

The options include “counterforce” capabilities that could prevent intermediate-range ground-launched ballistic and cruise missile attacks, including weapons acquired from allies.

Additionally, Congress wants the Pentagon to begin developing unspecified “counterforce capabilities” and “countervailing strike capabilities”—presumably similar or asymmetric nuclear strike capabilities “to enhance the armed forces of the United States or allies of the United States.”

The legislation authorizes using funds for research, development, testing, and evaluation, noting that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs can prioritize those weapons that will be fielded within two years.

The INF treaty bans ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 310 miles and 3,417 miles. The United States eliminated all its Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Russian officials have said the INF treaty has constrained their defenses and noted concerns about the large buildup of Chinese INF-range ballistic and cruise missiles as one reason for Moscow apparently jettisoning the INF accord.

The Obama administration has sought to play down the INF violation, first disclosed formally last year in a State Department arms compliance report.

Russia’s INF missile banned under the accord has been identified in published reports as the Iskander M ground-launched cruise missile. The missile, also known as the R-500, is a cruise missile variant of the Iskander short-range ballistic missile.

Moscow has denied violating the treaty and countered U.S. charges by claiming the United States has violated the treaty through a target missile and drone – both of which are not covered by the treaty. The U.S. has denied Moscow’s counter charges.

Critics on Capitol Hill, however, said State Department arms control officials, led by Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, have sought to play down or ignore the INF violation in order to try to preserve the arms control agenda with Moscow.

Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the congressional hearing in December that there were no plans to withdraw from the INF and that efforts were being undertaken to bring Russia back into compliance.

The House bill will need to be reconciled with a Senate version in the coming months. Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R., Ariz.) said during a hearing March 19 that the new INF weapon is a “a nuclear ground-launched cruise missile.”

In March, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that one option for the United States would be to deploy a ground-launched cruise missile in Europe and that such a deployment would require withdrawing from INF.

“What we are looking at in terms of options, countermeasures, some of which are compliant with the treaty, some of which would not be,” he said.

The options ranged from bolstering defenses of NATO and U.S. sites in Europe, preventive measures and then “countervailing strike capabilities to go after other Russian targets.”

Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon arms control official, said the legislation is very useful.

“There must be a congressional push for a response to Russian violation of the INF Treaty or there won’t be any,” he said.

“While I believe that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is sincere when he talked about the need for a U.S. response, I do not believe that this is the case within the Department of State arms control bureau.”

Schneider stated that in addition to the illegal cruise missile, Russia cheating is much broader.

“In particular, there has been a recent development on the issue of whether Russian ABM systems and surface-to-air missiles have the prohibited capability to attack ground targets with nuclear warheads at INF range,” he said.

For example, Russian military analysts have reported that Russia’s S-300 anti-missile system has a ground attack capability close to INF range.

“With the Russian sale of the S-300 to Iran, this issue takes on greater significance,” Schneider said.

David S. Sullivan, a former Senate arms control specialist and former CIA analyst who first exposed Moscow’s cheating on the SALT arms treaty in the 1970s, said effective arms control treaties require effective verification and compliance.

“Violators must pay a price,” Sullivan said. “The Reagan defense build-up was the price the U.S. paid to deal with Soviet arms control cheating, and it ultimately caused the Soviets to bankrupt themselves in response.”

The U.S. response today to several confirmed INF treaty violations should also be programmatic, Sullivan said, including deployment of “offsetting cruise missile deployment to NATO and more strategic missile defenses.”

“Neither would cost very much, but they would be effective bolsters to deterrence,” he said.

A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the legislation. A spokesman for the Russian Embassy did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

According to the bill, other treaties that Russia appears to be violating include the Open Skies Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Vienna Document, the Budapest Memorandum, the Istanbul Commitments, the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, and the Missile Technology Control Regime. Moscow also recently withdrew from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, raising new doubts about its arms control commitments.

Other Russia-related provisions of the bill call on the Pentagon to notify Congress of Russian transfers or sales of Club-K cruise missiles, weapons disguised in launchers that appear to be shipping containers. The military also would be required to develop a strategy to defeat the Club-K.

Another measure calls for the Pentagon to provide quarterly notifications to Congress of Russian preparations for deploying nuclear weapons in militarily occupied Crimea.

Congressional notification of any U.S. approval of Russia’s plan to upgrade intelligence-gathering aircraft under the Open Skies Treaty is included in the bill.

Russia launches war games in disputed Ukraine territories

Russia launches war games in disputed Ukraine territories

Russia has launched large-scale military exercises involving three disputed territories in a move likely to irk its neighbours and heighten concern in Nato about Moscow’s intentions.

The defence ministry on Thursday announced a drill including the federal districts of Southern Russia, the Northern Caucasus and the recently-annexed Crimea as well as Russian military bases in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Armenia. The exercises will run until April 10.

This adds to a string of manoeuvres conducted over the past few weeks in Crimea, Armenia, the Russian region of North Ossetia and three other areas in Southern Russia.

While the Russian armed forces regularly hold manoeuvres at their bases in Armenia and in the two disputed breakaway regions from Georgia — Abkhazia and South Ossetia — they have in the past shied away from giving them too high a profile.

Foreign military experts in Moscow said the overall level of drill activity since the beginning of the year was comparable to the same period last year. Yet the latest exercises were being viewed as a message. “That every exercise at the moment also carries a signal to the west regarding Russia’s readiness goes without saying,” said a European military official.

In September 2012, when the military conducted an annual exercise covering the Caucasus region, it said bases in Armenia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia were not participating and no foreign nationals were taking part “in order to avoid extra tension in the bilateral relations with several neighbours of the Russian Federation.”

But this time, the tone is set by a hardening stand-off between Russia and Nato over Moscow’s role in the war in eastern Ukraine.

Victoria Nuland, US assistant secretary of state, said on Wednesday that Russia had “thousands and thousands” of soldiers in Ukraine. Nato has been strengthening its presence in member states neighbouring Russia, and some members of the alliance are discussing whether to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to defend itself. The UK is sending personnel to train Ukrainian soldiers.

Several Nato member states and other European countries also complain of increasingly aggressive military posturing by Russia, including repeated incursions by fighter aircraft.

Russia continues to angrily deny any formal involvement of its military in Ukraine and, in turn, has accused Nato of pressuring it. Anatoly Antonov, deputy defence minister, mockingly asked why Ms Nuland had not used even higher figures. “Why doesn’t she say 20,000?” he asked.

Mr Antonov claimed Nato was more active in the vicinity of Russia’s borders than Russia itself. He accused the alliance of using the Ukraine conflict as a pretext for moving closer to Russia’s borders.

The drills also come as Russia is integrating South Ossetia and Abkhazia closer into its security infrastructure through alliance treaties and the establishment of joint forces. Moscow went to war with Georgia in 2008 to support South Ossetia. It subsequently recognised the two breakaway territories as independent states and they have been highly dependent on Russia since.

The authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia say their motive for the closer security alliance with Russia — which was designed in Moscow — is the desire for protection as Georgia seeks to align itself with Nato more closely.

US to Deploy Six National Guard Companies to Ukraine This Week

US to Deploy Six National Guard Companies to Ukraine This Week

US 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander Michael Foster said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC said the US would deploy personnel by the end of this week to train the Ukrainian national guard.

Navy US military aircraft plane relief troops

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The United States will deploy personnel by the end of this week to train the Ukrainian national guard, US 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander Colonel Michael Foster said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC on Monday.“

Before this week is up, we’ll be deploying a battalion minus… to the Ukraine to train Ukrainian forces for the fight that’s taking place,” Foster stated. “What we’ve got laid out is six United States companies that will be training six Ukrainian companies throughout the summer.”

The training will take place at the level of US and Ukrainian national guard companies, Foster explained, adding that “we have nothing above battalion staff level” engaged in the military training.

The Ukrainian nationalist Aidar battalion was officially disbanded and reorganized as the 24th Separate Assault Battalion of the Ukrainian Ground Forces.

The current plan is for US forces to stay six months, he said, and noted there have been discussions about how to increase the duration and the scope of the training mission.

Related: Last April We Said Russia Would Start WWIII. See Article.

The current channels for military training set up between Ukraine and the United States would not be used for transferring defensive lethal aid if the United States decided to provide arms to Ukraine, Foster told Sputnik on Monday.

“It would go through something separate… We would not funnel the lethal aid or arms through that [training] event, we would use a secondary method for that,” Foster said, adding that a completely separate process is preferable.

The United States and NATO have been engaged in military training exercises with Ukraine since the fall of 2014, according to NATO press releases.

United Kingdom’s (UK) Prime Minister David Cameron announced last week that the UK will also be sending military advisors to Ukraine.

US Military ‘Trainers’ To Deploy To Ukraine

US Military ‘Trainers’ To Deploy To Ukraine

Also Will Begin Shipment of US-funded Armored Vehicles

sheriff vehicle police armored militarized

WASHINGTON — American soldiers will deploy to Ukraine this spring to begin training four companies of the Ukrainian National Guard, the head of US Army Europe Lt. Gen Ben Hodges said during his first visit to Kiev on Wednesday.

The number of troops heading to the Yavoriv Training Area near the city of L’viv — which is about 40 miles from the Polish border — is still being determined, however.

The American training effort comes as part of a US State Department initiative “to assist Ukraine in strengthening its law enforcement capabilities, conduct internal defense, and maintain rule of law” Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman told Defense News.

After meeting with commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Anatoliy Pushnyakov and acting commander of the National Guard Lt. Gen. Oleksandr Kryvyenko during his visit, Hodges said he was “impressed by the readiness of both military and civil leadership to change and reform.”

The training was requested by the Ukrainian government “as they work to reform their police forces and establish their newly formed National Guard,” Hillman added. Funding for the initiative is coming from the congressionally-authorized Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF), which was requested by the Obama administration in the fiscal 2015 budget to help train and equip the armed forces of allies around the globe.

The training mission has been the subject of plenty of discussion among US policy makers for months, and the United States has already earmarked $19 million to help build the Ukrainian National Guard.

“We’re very open to the idea that this becomes a first step in further training for the Ukrainian military,” Derek Chollet, former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told Defense News just before he left the Pentagon on Jan. 17.

He was quick to add that he doesn’t anticipate that this training mission “will require significant US presence.”

The mission comes at a time of increasing concern among Eastern European countries that Russian aggression in the region will increase, and as fighting around the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk between government forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels rages on.

Speaking at the Davos conference on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia of sending 9,000 troops into the eastern part of his country to back the rebels, a contention that NATO officials have backed up, but without providing their own estimates for the number of Russian forces in country.

Chollet said Russian military incursions into the Crimea and eastern Ukraine have refocused American attention on the region after a decade of fighting two wars in the Middle East.

“A year ago we were worried about the future of the trans-Atlantic relationship, how would it be relevant to people,” he said. “And of course, the events of the last year with Russia and Ukraine has focused people again on threats to European security and the unfinished business, really, still coming out of the end of the Cold War.”

One of the biggest challenges for US policy makers is trying to discern “where could this lead and how does this make us think anew about European security issues and force posture issues or defense spending issues?” he added.

In addition to US trainers, Washington is beginning to provide heavier military equipment to the government in Kiev. On Monday, the United States delivered the first prototype of an armored “Kozak” vehicle for use with the Ukrainian border guard, according to the US Embassy there.

A posting on a US government contracting site put the cost of the vehicle at $189,000.

The vehicle is built on a chassis manufactured by Italian company Iveco and features a V-shaped armored hull to help protect against mines and roadside bombs. The embassy said that to date, “the United States has delivered dozens of armored pickup trucks and vans to the Ukrainian Border Guard Service. The Kozak is larger and offers a higher level of protection.”

Email: pmcleary@defensenews.com

Russia To Boost Military Capabilities In Crimea and Arctic

Russia To Boost Military Capabilities In Crimea and Arctic

We are in a new Cold War

Russia Russian bomber fighter airplane plane aircraft

In 2015, the Russian Defense Ministry plans to focus on boosting military capabilities in Crimea, the Kaliningrad region, and the Arctic, while carrying out other planned modernizations of the armed forces and drafting a new long-term defense plan.

“We are drawing up a new Russian Federation Defense Plan for 2016-2020 to ensure timely placing and obligatory fulfillment of state defense orders in 2015 to have modern models of weapons and military equipment as planned,” Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said, as Moscow refocuses its major rearmament plan, worth over 20 trillion rubles ($310 billion) over the span of 10 years, according to a new military doctrine.

Russia’s chief of General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said that in 2015 Russia will focus on reinforcing its military on the Crimean peninsula, the Kaliningrad Region, and in the Arctic.

“In 2015, the Defense Ministry’s main efforts will focus on an increase of combat capabilities of the armed forces and increasing the military staff in accordance with military construction plans. Much attention will be given to the groupings in Crimea, Kaliningrad, and the Arctic,” Gerasimov said on Tuesday.
In the Arctic, deputy Defense Minister Gen. Dmitry Bulgakov specified that Russia will rebuild an additional 10 military airfields in 2015. “We will reconstruct 10 airfields in the Arctic region this year, which will bring the number to 14 operational airfields in the Arctic,” he said.

A new branch of the Russian military, the Aerospace Defense Force, will be formed in 2015, ahead of schedule, through the merger of Air Force and Space Forces.

“A new type of armed forces will be created in 2015, the Aerospace Defense Force, by merging two already existing military forces: the Air Force and Space Force,” Gerasimov said, as Russia continues developing a reliable space echelon of the early-warning radar system to detect missile launches.

This year, Shoigu said that Russian armed forces are set to receive some 700 armored and 1,550 other vehicles, 126 planes, 88 helicopters, and two Iskander-M missile systems. The navy will receive five surface warships and two multi-purpose submarines.

In 2015, one year ahead of schedule, the military will commission a radar station Voronezh-DM in the Siberian town of Yeniseisk. A similar one in Barnaul, Russia’s Altai region, will be erected six months ahead of schedule, the defense chief said.

A network of joint warfare training centers will be set up in every Russian military district, which by 2020 will all be interconnected by a single virtual battle space, according to the minister. In order to raise the professional level of its troops, the military hopes by the end of 2015 to recruit 52,000 contract soldiers, in addition to conscripts.

The announced upgrades to Russia’s military capabilities fall in line with the newly updated version of the military doctrine, which reflects the emergence of new threats against its national security. NATO military build-up and the American Prompt Global Strike concept are listed among them.

As part of the overall effort to increase security and battle readiness amid hyperbolic warmongering rhetoric from NATO, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced in December that tens of thousands of Russian troops would take part in Center 2015 strategic exercises that would be held simultaneously in several areas both in Russia and abroad. In total, the ministry announced it will hold about 4,000 various combat training missions in 2015.

Putin sends Obama message in New Year’s speech

Putin sends Obama message in New Year’s speech

Putin Obama dog leopard poodle
Putin-leopard, Obama-poodle

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin has used his New Year’s speech to hail his country’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula as an achievement that will “forever remain a landmark in the national history.”

Putin’s comment in his pre-recorded annual address on Wednesday already has been broadcast in Russia’s far eastern regions, where the holiday was celebrated hours ahead of Moscow, given the time difference.

The Kremlin also published several dozen New Year’s messages that Putin has sent to heads of state and international organizations, including one to President Barack Obama.

Putin reminded Obama of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II, and said that should serve as a reminder of “the responsibility that Russia and the United States bear for maintaining peace and international stability.” Moscow is anxious for those bilateral relations to advance, but only as long as there is “equality and mutual respect.”

After Ukraine’s former Russia-friendly president was driven from power in February, Moscow sent troops to overtake Crimea, home to a Russian naval base. Those forces blocked Ukrainian military garrisons and set the stage for a hastily called referendum on Crimea joining Russia, which Ukraine and the West rejected as illegal.

The West has imposed crippling sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where the fighting between the government troops and the rebels has killed more than 4,700 since April.

Under the combined blow of the sanctions and slumping oil prices, the Russian ruble has lost about half its value this year and the national economy has drifted into recession. Putin has promised that the economy will rebound in two years, but he has failed to offer a specific plan for easing Russia’s heavy dependence on oil and gas revenues.

In his speech, Putin praised Crimea’s “return home,” a view widely backed by many Russians who saw Ukraine’s control over the Black Sea region a historic injustice. Crimea only became part of Ukraine when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the peninsula to his native land in 1954. That mattered little until the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 and Crimea ended up in an independent Ukraine.

Experts have warned that Putin’s popularity, which soared after the annexation of Crimea, could fizzle quickly amid his nation’s economic downturn. But the Russian leader refrained from directly referring to Russia’s economic woes in his New Year address, praising his citizens for their readiness to stay united “both in days of triumphs and at a time of trials” and to maintain their “unity and solidarity.”

Russia Warns US on Bill Authorizing Military Weapons to Ukraine

Russia Warns US on Bill Authorizing Military Weapons to Ukraine

Predator Reaper UAV drone
Predator Reaper UAV (drone)

Russia says there will be repercussions if Washington imposes new sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

Deputy Foreign Secretary Sergei Ryabkov over the weekend blamed “anti-Russian moods” in Washington for the new bill authorizing lethal military aid to Kyiv and deeper sanctions against Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week the legislation, known as the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, had an “openly confrontational nature” and amounted to “blackmail.”

The ministry said the bill will cause “deep regret” and destroy chances for any joint efforts to end the Ukraine crisis.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to discuss the matter with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when they meet today in Rome.

The bill, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate, authorizes $350 million in military hardware and munitions to Ukraine, and new sanctions against high-profile Russian exporters. The equipmentreportedly includes anti-tank and anti-armour weapons, radar, surveillance drones and communications gear.

Kyiv and Western governments accuse Moscow of supplying direct aid to pro-Russian rebels seeking autonomy in Ukraine’s east. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the charges and says that Russian soldiers seen fighting alongside rebels are doing so as volunteers.

As the latest political drama played out in Washington and Moscow, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said a fragile cease-fire between government forces and Russia-backed rebels appeared to be holding.

Poroshenko, speaking early Friday, said 24 hours had passed without any deaths or injuries in Ukraine’s war-torn east.

The Ukrainian leader pleaded with Russia to close its border with Ukraine, saying there would be “peace and stability” in his country within weeks if Moscow did so.

Ukrainian PM Reports Accident At Nuclear Plant

Ukrainian PM Reports Accident At Nuclear Plant

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said on Wednesday an accident had occurred at the Zaporizhye nuclear power plant

Ukrainian PM reports accident at nuclear power plant

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said on Wednesday an accident had occurred at the Zaporizhye nuclear power plant (NPP) in south-east Ukraine and called on the energy minister to hold a news conference.

“I know that an accident has occurred at the Zaporizhye NPP,” Yatseniuk said, asking new energy minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn to make clear when the problem would be resolved and what steps would be taken to restore normal power supply across Ukraine.

News agency Interfax Ukraine said the problem had occurred at bloc No 3 – a 1,000-megawatt reactor – and the resulting lack of output had worsened the power crisis in the country. Interfax added that the bloc was expected to come back on stream on Dec. 5.

Russia Moving Missiles, Rockets Toward Eastern Ukraine

Russia Moving Missiles, Rockets Toward Eastern Ukraine

NATO commander: Deployment of western “rotational forces” needed in Poland, Romania, the Baltics

Russia military parade / AP

BY:

Russia is sending additional military forces toward the border with eastern Ukraine, including units equipped with ballistic missiles, as part of Moscow’s ongoing destabilization effort in support of pro-Russian rebels.

U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports said one Russian military unit equipped with short-range ballistic missiles was detected this week near eastern Ukraine, where Russia has launched a destabilization program following its military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March.

The military movements coincided with the an unusual number of flights last week by Russian strategic nuclear bombers and aircraft along Europe’s northern coasts in a what NATO’s military commander called strategic “messaging” toward the West.

“My opinion is that they’re messaging us,” Gen. Phillip Breedlove, the commander, told reporters at the Pentagon this week. “They’re messaging us that they are a great power and that they have the ability to exert these kinds of influences in our thinking.”

The bomber flights included three days of paired Tu-95 bomber flights that were to have circumnavigated Europe from the north but instead were halted near Portugal.

U.S. officials said Russia deployed several Il-78 refueling tankers in Egypt that were to resupply the bombers during flights over the Mediterranean, but those flights were scrapped for unknown reasons.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed concerns about Russian military moves in Ukraine during remarks to reporters Tuesday in Brussels.

“Recently we are also seeing Russian troops moving closer to the border with Ukraine, and Russia continues to support the separatists by training them, by providing equipment, and supporting them also by having special forces, Russian special forces, inside the eastern parts of Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

Other officials said both intelligence and social media reports in recent days revealed an increase in Russian deployments.

The missile systems being deployed were described as conventionally armed, short-range ballistic missiles, multiple launch rocket systems, and BM-21 Grad multiple rocker launchers.

Additionally, Russian military forces are moving towed artillery pieces closer to the border.

One official said the display of military power is part of Moscow’s effort to reinforce “separatists” seeking to carve out a pro-Russian enclave in Eastern Ukraine.

The Russian “Spetsnaz” or special forces commandos are already inside the country, but the ground forces as of Wednesday appeared to be staging at the border.

Russian military forces in Ukraine number around 300 commandos. “These are not fighting formations. These are formations and specialists that are in there doing training and equipping of the separatist forces,” Breedlove said.

The buildup is either part of a plan for military escalation, or a coordinated pressure tactic by Moscow to force Ukraine to make concessions to the rebels, officials said.

Rebel groups in the region have made repeated threats to take control of the key southeastern Ukrainian port of Mariupol and other territory unless the Ukrainian government agrees to make changes in the current separation line.

“The build up may just be a pressure tactic to force such concessions, or it may presage further escalation,” one official said.

Rebels in eastern Ukraine recently held elections that Ukraine and NATO dismissed as illegal. New charges were raised in Kiev Wednesday about violations of a peace agreement reached in Belarus in September.

Breedlove said Monday there was no “huge change” in Russian deployments. Currently about seven battalion task groups are stationed near the border with Ukraine.

“Some of those formations have moved closer to the border,” he said. “We believe that was probably to bring some pressure on and make sure that the elections went according to the separatist plans; we’ll look now to see if they pull back from the border into their previous border locations.”

“We have now realistically entered the phase of a ‘frozen conflict,’” Yury Yakimenko, a political analyst at Ukraine’s Razumkov political research center told Reuters. The term frozen conflict has been applied to other former Soviet Republics where separatists are being backed by Russian forces.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is part of a program by Russian President Vladimir Putin to gain control or hegemony over former Soviet bloc states described as the “near abroad.”

Putin is seeking to restore Russian power with territorial seizures, along with a large-scale nuclear and conventional forces buildup.

Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen M. Lainez said Russian forces and equipment remain on Ukraine’s border and on Ukrainian territory in violation of international law. “We again call on Russian authorities and the separatists they back to abide by their commitments under the Sept. 5 ceasefire agreement and the Sept. 19 implementing agreement,” she said.

Breedlove said the Russians in the past have conducted small-scale bomber flights.

“And what you saw this past week was a larger, more complex formation of aircraft carrying out a little deeper and, I would say, a little bit more provocative flight path,” he said. “And so it is a concern.”

The flights are destabilizing and “problematic,” Breedlove said.

Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, also voiced concerns about the Russian bomber flights.

“When it comes to the increased Russian military activity, both in the air but also along the borders of Ukraine, I think that what we see is, especially when it comes to increased air activity of Russian planes, is that they are showing strength, and what we are doing is what we are supposed to do: we are intercepting the Russian planes, whether it is in the Atlantic Sea or the Baltic Sea or in the Black Sea,” he said.

Breedlove said he has discussed with U.S. military chiefs the idea of moving additional troops and supplies closer to Russia as a result of “increased pressure that we feel in Eastern Europe now and because of the assurance measures that we are taking in the Baltics, in Poland, in Romania.”

“I believe there is a requirement for rotational forces in the future until we see the current situation begin to normalize,” he said.

Breedlove said the halt in the conflict in Ukraine has been “pretty much a cease-fire in name only.”

“There continue to be sporadic engagements in and around the cease-fire zone,” he said. “And the second thing that I would say that has changed is we have seen a general trend towards a hardening of this line of demarcation and much more softening of the actual Ukraine-Russia border.”

Russia’s border with Ukraine in the east is open and completely porous. As a result, Russian military equipment is flowing back and forth the border

“Russia continues to resupply the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine,” Breedlove said.