The warnings came as Russia was finalizing its takeover of Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, the peninsula it occupied at the start of March and subsequently annexed.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya, appearing on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” said the prospect of war with Russia is growing.
“We don’t know what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has in his mind and what will be his decision,” Deshchytsya said. “That’s why this situation is becoming even more explosive than it used to be a week ago.”
In Brussels, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, said Russia had assembled a large force on Ukraine’s eastern border that could be planning to head for Moldova’s separatist Transnistria region, 200 miles away.
Ukrainian officials have been warning for weeks that Russia is trying to provoke a conflict in eastern Ukraine, a charge that Russia denies. But Breedlove said Russian ambitions do not stop there.
“There is absolutely sufficient force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transnistria if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome,” Breedlove said.
In Washington, a senior Defense Department official said it was “difficult to know what [Russia’s] intent is; they’re not exactly being transparent.” He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.
During a conversation Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu assured U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russian troops on the Ukrainian border were merely conducting a regular “spring” exercise and that Russia had no intention of sending the forces across the international line, the U.S. official said.
But at the same time, the official said, “They have enough troops close enough and, most likely, ready enough that we would have very little notice” if they decided to move farther outside Russia.
Russian news services quoted Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov as saying Sunday that Russia is complying with all international agreements on troop limits near its border with Ukraine.
On Sunday, Putin ordered that police, civil defense, domestic intelligence and other governmental structures in Crimea must follow Russian law and procedures by March 29.
On Monday, the Russian ruble is to be introduced in Crimea as an official currency alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia.
The Ukrainian government in Kiev refuses to recognize the annexation.