Pro-Russia activists guard a barricade April 17 outside the police regional building seized by the separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and four-star chief of U.S. European Command, said he rejects the Russians' claim that their military is not conducting operations in the towns of eastern Ukraine. (Genya Savilov / Getty Images)
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U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, gestures during an April 9 interview with the Associated Press in Paris. (Remy de la Mauviniere / AP)
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The Russians aren’t fooling anyone.
That’s the stark message from the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and four-star chief of U.S. European Command, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove.
In a blunt post on his blog Thursday, Breedlove said he rejects the Russians’ claim that their military is not conducting operations in the towns of eastern Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and others in Moscow say the attacks and seizure of government buildings by well-armed and masked men during the past few days are driven by spontaneously assembled militias of Russian-speaking locals who oppose the current regime.
But Breedlove said, “It’s simply not true.”
“What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized, and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia,” the general wrote on NATO’s blog.
Breedlove then rattled of “some observations from our analytical experts” that include:
■ The pro-Russian “activists” in eastern Ukraine exhibit telltale military training and equipment and work together in a way that is consistent with troops who are part of a longstanding unit, not spontaneously stood up from a local militia.
■ The weapons-handling discipline and professional behavior of these forces is consistent with a trained military force. Rifle muzzles are pointed down and fingers are not on triggers, but rather laid across trigger mechanisms.
■ Coordinated use of tear gas and stun grenades against targeted buildings indicates a level of training that exceeds a recently formed militia.
■ Video of these forces at checkpoints shows they are attentive, on their feet, focused on their security tasks, and under control of an apparent leader. This contrasts with typical militia or mob checkpoints, where it’s common to see people sitting, smoking and so forth.
■ The way these forces target government buildings, hit them in coordinated strikes and quickly secure the surrounding area with roadblocks and barricades is similar to what was seen in Crimea. Again, this indicates a professional military force acting under direction and leadership, not a spontaneous militia.
■ Finally, the weapons and equipment they carry are primarily Russian army issue. This is not the kind of equipment that civilians would be likely to be able to get their hands on in large numbers.