Russia could move to hold territory in eastern Ukraine permanently, as it did following a military conflict with Georgia in 2008, NATO’s senior military officer said Thursday.
“I do not know what the Russians are going to do but I see no reason to exclude that possibility,” Danish Gen. Knud Bartels, chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, told reporters during a Defense Writers Group breakfast.
Moscow could “create a situation in eastern Ukraine reminiscent of what took place in Georgia” when the Kremlin sent military forces over the border to support the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, he said.
Russia still maintains forces in both provinces.
Earlier this year, Russia annexed Crimea and has since supported pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine’s east. The two countries have since negotiated a cease-fire, but tensions remain high.
The Obama administration, along with European allies, has issued rounds of economic sanctions against Russia, and Washington has given millions in non-lethal military aid to Kiev.
Bartels said NATO’s 28 members “stand shoulder to shoulder” against further Russia aggression but predicted the consequences of the conflict between Moscow and Ukraine would linger “for a long time.”
“Russia is where Russia is,” he said. “And Russia will remain where it is.”