NATO’s top general said the two-week-old truce between Ukraine and pro-Russian militants fighting in the country’s east is a “cease-fire in name only,” and he said that by enabling a free flow of weapons and fighters across the border Russia has made it nearly impossible for outsiders to determine how many of its troops are operating inside Ukraine.
US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told a news conference after meeting with NATO military chiefs that he is hopeful about Saturday’s announced agreement for creation of a buffer zone between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces.
The deal reached by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the Moscow-backed rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe marks an effort to add substance to the September 5 cease-fire agreement that has been frequently broken by clashes.
Breedlove has put the main blame on Russia for the continuing conflict.
“So the situation in Ukraine is not good right now,” he said. “Basically we have a cease-fire in name only.”
Breedlove said violence levels in Ukraine, including the number of artillery rounds fired in the past few days, are as high as prior to the cease-fire.
“So the cease-fire is still there in name, but what is happening on the ground is quite a different story,” he said.
Breedlove said Russian forces are still operating inside Ukraine but numbers cannot be pinpointed.
“Right now the border is being maintained open by Russian forces and Russian-backed forces, and the fluidity of movement of Russian forces and Russian-backed forces back and forth across that border makes it almost impossible to understand the numbers,” he said.
He said it is clear that the number of Russian troops in Ukraine has declined significantly over the past week or so, with some returning to the Russian side of the border – “which is good, except that they haven’t returned home and are still available to bring their military force to bear on Ukraine, should it be desired” by Russian government leaders.