Archive for April, 2014

NEW SPOTLIGHT ON NORTH KOREA’S HORRORS

April 18, 2014

National Review on April 17, 2014, published an article by US Senator Marco Rubio on Australian justice Michael Kirby, who led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, briefing members of the U.N. Security Council regarding the widespread atrocities being committed on a daily basis against innocent people by one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Excerpts below:

Given Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine and other global challenges, the report of this U.N. commission has not received the attention it deserves.

Under the dictatorship of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean regime routinely engages in torture, arbitrary detentions, indiscriminate disappearances, starvation, and executions…Prisoners are often subjected to human experiments, denied food, and essentially worked to death in North Korea’s network of infamous prison camps.

Pyongyang continues to isolate itself and its people from the rest of the world. There is no freedom of the press or access to the Internet.

The horrific, systematic violations of human rights in North Korea have been going on for many years. And for far too long, these abuses have taken a back seat to international concerns about North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program and other provocative behavior. Publicly and frequently documenting the widespread abuses and mistreatment of the North Korean people is an important step toward change and a potential deterrent to other would-be human-rights abusers.

This is exactly what the three-member United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in North Korea did with their report, after spending a year looking into the North Koreans’ plight. During hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London, and Washington, the commission heard firsthand accounts from individuals who fled torture and inhumane conditions in North Korea.

Their report concludes that crimes against humanity were committed in North Korea over a multi-decade period “pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the state.”

Many countries in the region did support the commission — with the important exception of China, which refused to grant the commission access to its territory, raising concerns about Beijing’s ongoing support for Pyongyang.

Yet despite these attempts to withhold access, more information about the brutality of the Kim regime is emerging, as North Korean defectors courageously share their personal stories of deprivation and, ultimately, survival. I was honored to be able to meet with a number of North Korean defectors on a trip to South Korea earlier this year and to hear their stories firsthand. They told me that it is important to recognize that exposing the regime’s heinous crimes against humanity as often and as publicly as possible is one of our most powerful tools against the continued brutality of the North Korean regime.

I am under no illusion that this commission will profoundly alter the present-day horrific human-rights situation for the long-suffering North Korean people. But I do believe that the work of the Commission of Inquiry will raise — and, indeed, already has raised — public consciousness about the deplorable plight of the North Korean people.

When we look back at the Holocaust and the murders of millions of innocents in Europe during World War II, many ask why we didn’t do more to stop those atrocities until it was too late for so many who did not survive to see the day the camps were liberated…Anyone with an Internet connection can today use Google Earth to view the modern-day gulags in North Korea.

It is time for the United States and for all who cherish freedom to make it our common cause to pressure the regime to open these camps for international inspection and to make clear that those involved in these horrific crimes will one day be held accountable.

— Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.

UKRAINE INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS THREE PRO-RUSSIA PROTESTERS KILLED AT MILITARY BASE

April 17, 2014

FoxNews on April 17, 2014, reported that Ukraine’s Interior Minister said that three pro-Russian protesters were killed, 13 more were wounded, and 63 were arrested in a confrontation at a military base in the east of the country. Excerpts below:

The Wall Street Journal first reported the remarks by Arsen Avakov. The incident occurred at a base in the southeastern city of Mariupol, in the Donbass region of the country, approximately 70 miles south of Donetsk.

Earlier, the Journal reported that a group of insurgents had stormed the base late on April 16 as Ukraine’s military drive to regain control of the country’s east from separatists was stymied by civilians who halted army columns in their tracks and militants who hijacked Ukrainian military vehicles and drove them around with Russian flags.

At Mariupol, the Ukrainian National Guard said the troops there had refused to comply with demands to surrender their weapons and switch sides. Protesters began rushing the gates and throwing Molotov cocktails, according to the National Guard, and shots were fired.

“I think we still have a chance to de-escalate the situation using the diplomatic means,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, told reporters on the 16th ahead talks in Geneva. “And we are trying hard.”

However, Deshchytsia said the diplomatic discussions also must be tempered with efforts “to look for a more concrete and adequate response to Russia’s plans and actions.”

Obama administration officials tamped down any expectations that the meetings in Geneva would yield a breakthrough or Russian concessions meaningful enough to avoid new U.S. penalties.

U.S. officials told the Associated Press that the Obama administration is readying additional sanctions against Moscow and a boost in aid for the Ukrainian military in the coming days. The sanctions likely will target more wealthy individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the entities they run, while military aid could include medical supplies and clothing. It was unclear whether those sanctions would change Putin’s calculus, given that the U.S. and the Europeans already have launched targeted sanctions on people in Putin’s inner circle.

Officials said a full-scale Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine would result in broad U.S. and European sanctions on key Russian economic sectors, including its powerful energy industry. However, European nations are divided on whether to limit its access to Russia’s oil and gas supplies, and a vote to sanction must be unanimous among the EU’s 28 member states.

The U.S. military aid was expected to stop short of body armor and other equipment for Ukraine’s troops.

Despite the diplomatic freeze between Moscow and Kiev, a senior State Department official said Ukraine’s negotiators planned to try to assuage Russia’s concerns during Thursday’s talks. Deshchytsia and his team were expected to brief Russia and the other diplomats on what Kiev was doing to transfer more power from the central government to the regions, including letting local areas keep more of their funding and elect their own leaders.

The Ukraine diplomats were prepared to field questions from negotiators and even seek Russia’s advice on how to quell concerns in Moscow about the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine and the approaching May 25 presidential elections to ensure they are inclusive for all candidates.

Ukraine’s outreach during the talks would help test whether Russia was willing to respond to a diplomatic solution to the crisis, said the U.S. official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Brussels, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the military alliance would increase its presence in Eastern Europe, including flying more sorties over the Baltic region west of Ukraine and deploying allied warships to the Baltic Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, told reporters that ground forces also could be involved at some point, but gave no details.

So far, the military movements and two initial rounds of sanctions against Russians and Ukrainians accused by the West of stirring up the unrest have done little to ease tensions.

Ukraine’s military launched its first actions against the pro-Russian forces on April 15.

Insurgents in Slovyansk have seized the police headquarters and the administration building, demanding broader autonomy for eastern Ukraine and closer ties with Russia. Their actions have been repeated in at least eight other cities in eastern Ukraine. The central government says Moscow is provoking the unrest.

The Associated Press contributed to this.

PROTEST DRAWS THOUSANDS IN MOSCOW

April 16, 2014

Washington Times on April 15, 2014, reported that at least 5,000 people have turned out in Moscow for a rally to denounce a government crackdown on independent media and Russian state television’s news coverage of the crisis in neighboring Ukraine. Excerpts below:

The demonstration in central Moscow on April 13 was called a “March of Truth.”

Historian Andrei Zubov told the crowd that by lying to the Russian people on television, the government was leading the country toward “an abyss.”

Zubov lost his job at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations after writing an article comparing Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Adolf Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland in 1938.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters.

EAST UKRAINE CRISIS: KYIV INTELLIGENCE REPORTS ON RUSSIAN MASSACRE PLANS IN UKRAINE

April 16, 2014

Free Republic on April 16, 2014, reported that Russia is going to kill 100-200 people and invade Ukraine. This according to a briefing by a leading Ukrainian Counterintelligence chief, Vitaly Naida, in Kyiv. Excerpts below:

“The main purpose of the action of special forces on the territory of Ukraine is the maximum the destabilization of the situation,” he said.

“Moreover, the intercepted conversations suggest-and I was sad to hear about it-that a country that declared themselves to be brotherly, is planning to shed blood on the streets of our cities,” he said.

“It’s those Russian Spetznaz forces who had seized the building of the Supreme Council and Council of Ministers of Crimea,” he said.

Ukrainian intelligence also said that the Russian special forces in Ukraine are commanded by Igor Strêlkova (callsign Strêlok), who “led the attempts to capture buildings in Kharkiv, Mykolayiv, Kherson, and Odessa.”

The Russian troops now operating on Ukrainian territory also participated in the occupation of territory in Georgia.

RUSSIAN JET PASSES AT CLOSE RANGE OVER US WARSHIP IN BLACK SEA

April 15, 2014

FoxNews on April 14, 2014, reported that a Russian warplane made several close-range passes by an American warship in the Black Sea over the weekend, in what the Pentagon is calling a “provocative” move amid escalating tensions in the region. Excerpts below:

The jet, a Russian Su-24, made numerous low-altitude passes on Saturday over the USS Donald Cook, a guided-missile Navy destroyer in the western Black Sea, the Pentagon confirmed.

According to officials, the jet made a total of 12 passes over the course of 90 minutes. It did not once respond to multiple contacts and warnings from the USS Donald Cook, despite the fact that the U.S. Navy ship was able to reach the cockpit directly.

“This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with international protocols and previous agreements of a professional interaction between our militaries,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said.

The low altitude of the jet varied at times from “virtual sea level to several thousand feet,” Warren said. The jet did not “buzz” the Cook, but “flew too close,” he said.

A second Russian Su-24 was in the area the entire time, but did not make any similarly provocative maneuvers.

It’s not unusual for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Black Sea. The Donald Cook moved into the region last week for what the Navy called “routine operations,” though the deployment is seen mostly as a symbolic response to tensions along the Ukrainian-Russian border.

Fox News’ Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

KYIV GOVERNMENT TO DEPLOY TROOPS IN UKRAINE’S EAST

April 14, 2014

Washington Times on April 13, 2014, published an AP report on Ukraine’s government turning to force to try to restore its authority in the vital industrial east. It announced it was sending in troops to try to quash an increasingly brazen pro-Russian insurgency, despite repeated warnings from the Kremlin. Excerpts below:

Accusing Moscow of fomenting the unrest, Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a televised address that such a “large-scale anti-terrorist operation” would ensure Russia did not “repeat the Crimean scenario in Ukraine’s east.” Turchynov pledged to offer amnesty to anyone surrendering their weapons by Monday morning.

Earlier on April 13 Ukrainian special forces exchanged gunfire with a pro-Russia militia outside the eastern city of Slovyansk – the first reported gunbattle in the east, where armed pro-Russian men have seized a number of key government buildings to press their demands for referendums on autonomy and possible annexation by Russia, following the pattern set by the vote in Crimea last month. A Ukrainian security officer was killed and at least two others wounded.

Calling such attacks a “Russian aggression,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post that special forces of up to 12,000 people will be drawn from volunteers who will be tasked with resisting attacks from pro-Russian forces in their local areas.

Unrest has spread to several municipalities in eastern Ukraine, including the major industrial city of Donetsk, which has a large Russian-speaking population and was the support base for Yanukovych. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east widely fear that the new pro-Western Ukrainian government will suppress them.

Several town halls and other government buildings were occupied by crowds of supporters of the referendum drive to give eastern regions wide powers of autonomy.

A police station and the local security services headquarters in Slovyansk, some 90 miles (150 kilometers) west of the Russian border, were the latest to fall to storming on April 12 by well-armed and effectively coordinated militia. Both were still in the hands of gunmen Sunday, despite a government drive to retake them.

The police station was surrounded by a reinforced line of barricades, but there was a less noticeable presence of the automatic rifle-toting pro-Russian gunmen of the day before. Hundreds of residents beyond the barricades sang songs and shouted in support of the men seizing the building.

In Luhansk – a town of 420,000 across the border from Russia – heavily armed men still control the security services building. In Donetsk, 80 miles to the west, an occupied regional government building is now serving as the headquarters of a self-declared autonomous region billing itself the Donetsk Republic.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement…accusing “the Russian special service and saboteurs” of fomenting unrest and pledging to present “concrete evidence” of Russia’s involvement at a summit on Ukraine in Geneva on Thursday.

Two rival rallies in another regional capital in eastern Ukraine, Kharkiv, turned violent on Sunday when a group of pro-Russian protesters followed several pro-Ukrainian activists, beating them with bats and sticks, Interfax Ukraine news agency reported. Interfax quoted Kharkiv authorities as saying 10 people were injured at the rallies.

An attack was also reported on a police station in the nearby city of Kramatorsk. A video from local news website Kramatorsk.info showed a group of camouflaged men armed with automatic weapons storming the building. The website also reported that supporters of the separatist Donetsk Republic occupied the administration building, built a barricade with tires around it and planted a Russian flag nearby.

Regional news website OstroV said three key administrative buildings were seized in another city in the area, Enakiyeve. In Mariupol, a city on the Azov Sea just 30 miles from the Russian border, the city hall was seized by armed masked men. Local news website 0629.com.ua said 1,000 protesters were building a barricade around it, while armed men raised the Russian flag over the building.

Nataliya Vasilyeva in Kiev, Lynn Berry in Moscow, Maria Sanminiatelli at the United Nations and Stephen Braun in Washington contributed to this report.

NEXT GENERATION US MISSILE KILLERS

April 13, 2014

FoxNews on April 11, 2014, published a report by Allison Barrie on the next generation missile killers. It’s a mouthful, Raytheon’s state-of-the-art Computer Assisted Virtual Environment. So let’s just call it CAVE. Excerpts below:

It enables people from all over the world to step inside a virtual rocket engine, or a missile, or a satellite. Or they can walk the deck of a naval vessel at sea, or investigate a potential battle environment.

Why work in a cubicle when you can work in CAVE, the walls of which are covered in 3D technologies?

CAVE can be the size of a small theater containing multiple futuristic S3D display screens, or it can be operated through a single set of 3D glasses and an S3D-enabled workstation linked to a remote site. Put on some eyewear and you’re transported straight into its immersive 3D reality space.

The 3D space deploys immersive virtual reality technologies to spark collaboration between users and designers. It recently won fourth place in InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 for a top digital strategy by a business technology innovator.

For the U.S. Defense Department, CAVE has already produced impressive results. The design for the SM-3 Block IIA, the Pentagon’s new “hit to kill” ballistic missile, was forged [here].

The SM-3 – short for Standard Missile-3 – is a “missile-killer,” and it’s a fundamental part of America’s defense system. In a process often described as a bullet hitting a bullet, Navy ships use it to take down short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles in space.

The collision is like a 10-ton truck traveling at 600 mph – so massive that it destroys the target without any explosives.

Now Raytheon is working with Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to develop the next-generation SM-3: the Block IIA, which Raytheon is calling a “game changer.” It will be deployable on land and at sea, and it will travel farther to take out threats sooner.

Bigger than earlier versions, the SM-3 will feature a larger kinetic warhead and larger rocket motors, giving it greater reach and the ability to defend broader areas.

Useful for a range of missions and locations, it will be the centerpiece of the European missile defense system. It got its first land-based test at White Sands Missile Range last October, and it looks to be on track for deployment in 2018.

It wouldn’t have been possible without CAVE, which provided a number of advantages for designing the missile. It is much faster and easier to look inside a 3D model to check things and make adjustments than it is to take apart a physical prototype.

It also removes a lot of trial and error. CAVE identifies potential mechanical defects that might not have been found without immersive S3D.

Creating a virtual prototype is not only far more cost-effective than building a physical one, it also accelerates the speed of design and enables getting solutions in the hands of the government faster.

CAVE reduces costs in several ways. It reduces travel costs, because designers and end users around the world can collaborate and solve problems in the same virtual “meeting place,” regardless of their physical location.
CAVE has been used not just to design missiles, but to design a futuristic factory where they can be built.

Designers used the 3D augmented reality technology to test all aspects of a missile plant with a laser-guided robot fleet long before any construction began.

‘DOUBLE STANDARD’ : US BLASTS RUSSIA FOR BLOCKING VOICE OF AMERICA

April 12, 2014

FoxNews on April 11, 2014, reported that U.S. officials are assailing the Russian government for shutting down Voice of America’s radio broadcasts in Moscow, in a move that marked a dramatic escalation of the message war between the two governments amid the Ukraine conflict. Excerpts below:

The U.S. government-backed radio broadcast had been operating from a local frequency in Russia’s capital for years. But Dmitry Kiselev, the director of the information agency Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), informed Voice of America late last month it would “not cooperate” with a U.S. request to renew its license.

According to Russian media, he dismissed U.S. and other radio stations as a “spam on our frequencies.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Friday condemned the decision and accused Russia of hypocrisy for defending free speech in other countries, but not their own.

“We call on them now to drop this obvious double standard, and allow the same access to information for their people that it insists other nations provide,” she said.

Asked Friday if the U.S. would reciprocate by shutting down Russia outlets in the U.S., Psaki said the U.S. would not — because of a belief in free media.

The Russia media decision has hardened the stand-off between Vladimir Putin’s government and the West over the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and troop build-up on the Ukraine border.

Diplomatic officials are stepping into the fray after Russia’s media infrastructure tangled days earlier with the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America.

“Moscow has chosen to do the wrong thing and restrict free speech,” BBG Chairman Jeff Shell said in a statement.

According to the BBG, distribution of Voice of America and other related programming reached a “high point” in Russia in 2005. But the Russian government then started asking U.S. stations to reapply for their licenses, and began denying them.

U.S. officials noted that the license decision is part of a broader pattern, where the Russian government has passed laws “imposing unprecedented censorship and restrictions on media and online publications.”

This includes blocking independent websites and blogs, and denying visas to foreign journalists.

Despite the license denial, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian Service still offers radio programming over the Internet and satellite.

JOINT PRESS POINT BY NATO SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN AND THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC, BOHUSLAV SOBOTKA

April 11, 2014

In a Joint press point on April 10, 2014, NATO Secretary General said to Prime Minister Sobotka of the Czech Republic that it was a great pleasure to be back in Prague. A city which knows the importance of standing up for freedom, resisting illegal aggression, and living in truth.

It is now fifteen years since the Czech Republic has joined NATO, and you have proven a staunch and committed Ally.

Your troops have made a valuable contribution to our missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. You are fully involved in our Smart Defence efforts to develop modern military capabilities together.

We have just discussed Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine. For the first time since countries like the Czech Republic won their freedom, and the Cold War ended, we see one state trying to grab part of another’s territory at gunpoint.

It is a dangerous attempt to turn back time, using the methods and the rhetoric of the past we tried so hard to overcome.

We need to see a genuine political dialogue – and a genuine de-escalation on the ground.

That is why I urge Russia to pull back the troops it has massed on Ukraine’s borders. And to engage in a genuine dialogue with the Ukrainian Government.‎ It is important that Russia should take the right steps to rebuild trust, end the destabilisation of Ukraine and come back into line with its international commitments.

NATO considers this aggression illegal and illegitimate. And our commitment to collective defence is unwavering. We are taking legitimate steps to deal with the instability that Russia’s illegitimate actions have created.

Russia is trying to justify its actions by accusing the Ukrainian authorities of oppressing Russian speakers. And by accusing NATO of a Cold War mentality.

This is nothing but propaganda. Designed to subvert the Ukrainian government, pervert the truth, and divert attention from Russia’s own illegal and illegitimate actions.

As I speak, some 40,000 Russian troops are massed along Ukraine’s borders. Not training, but ready for combat. We have seen the satellite images, day after day.

Russia is stirring up ethnic tensions in eastern Ukraine and provoking unrest. And Russia is using its military might to dictate that Ukraine should become a federal, neutral state.

That is a decision which only Ukraine, as a sovereign state, can make. Nobody else. So from Prague, I have this message to Russia. You have a choice. To stop blaming others for your own actions. To stop massing your troops. To stop escalating this crisis and start engaging in a genuine dialogue. If Russia is serious about a dialogue, the first step should be to pull back its troops.

…we need to keep our capabilities strong. And to enhance training for our forces.

Above all, we must stop the decline of our defence budgets. And start reinvesting in our security.

Investing in defence has a cost. But we see that insecurity has a much higher price.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): Actually, my message today has been twofold. On the one hand, I have commended the Czech Republic for its strong commitment to our Alliance and also for its significant contributions to NATO-led operations, notably in Afghanistan.

Having said that, the other part of my message today has been that defence investments in the Czech Republic are too low. So I have encouraged the government to find ways to gradually increase defence investment.

QUESTION: Does it mean that NATO is ready to act militarily to help Ukraine in such a case?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We are not discussing military options. I have warned against further Russian intervention in Ukraine and made clear that it will have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia. It will lead to further international isolation of Russia. While this is not a NATO issue to deal with economic consequences of such intervention, I have no doubt based on statements from the international community that further Russian intervention in Ukraine might lead to severe economic sanctions that would have a very, very negative impact on Russian economy.

As regards NATO, we are focused on defence and protection of our Allies, their populations and societies. And this is the reason why we have taken steps to enhance our collective defence by enhancing air policing, deploying AWACS airplanes to improve surveillance. You have seen more naval presence in the Black Sea and we are now considering further steps to further enhance collective defence including an update and further development of our defence plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As I said in my previous answer, we are not discussing military options. I do believe that the right way forward is to find a political and diplomatic solution and I have no doubt that if Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine, it would have severe consequences and lead to further economic and political isolation of Russia internationally.

Having said that, we have decided to strengthen our cooperation with Ukraine, also military-to-military cooperation. We have a special NATO-Ukraine Commission, and within that Commission we will enhance our partnership, strengthen cooperation when it comes to defence reforms, capacity-building, Ukrainian participation in NATO exercises, just to mention some examples.

But I think it’s important to make clear that obviously there is a difference between being a member of NATO and not being a member of NATO. NATO is focused on military defence of our Allies and when it comes to Ukraine, we do believe that the right way forward is a political and diplomatic solution.

QUESTION: (Speaks in foreign language).

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: …I’m very pleased that the Prime Minister today has indicated that it is the intention of his government to stop further cuts in the defence budgets.

I have encouraged the Prime Minister to find political ways to gradually increase defence investment. Within NATO we have an ongoing dialogue with all Allies when it comes to the military specifics. And we see the Czech Republic as an Ally who is actually quite willing to listen to good advice from NATO defence planners.

But at the end of the day it is a national responsibility to take the necessary decisions to make sure that the armed forces live up to the overall requirements within our Alliance. I have no doubt that the Czech authorities will do all they can within the budgetary limits to continue modernization of the Czech Armed Forces.

But of course it would help if more resources could be devoted to defence.

QUESTION: For the Secretary General. On the 1st of April the Ukrainian Parliament approved the carrying out of international military exercises in Ukrainian land, which will take place from May til November. Don’t you think that this could lead to further escalation of the conflict with respect to Russia?

And if… do you consider this as part of the diplomatic and political solution that you are advocating for?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Let me stress that these exercises have been planned for a long, long time, long before this crisis emerged. And next, it is of course the right of a sovereign nation and a sovereign government to decide to conduct such exercises. And I don’t see these exercises provocative in any way. It’s quite natural that such exercises are part of cooperation between Ukraine and a number of NATO Allies.

NATO COMMANDER: U.S. TROOPS MAY BE SENT TO EASTERN EUROPE TO COUNTER PUTIN POWER GRABS

April 10, 2014

Washington Time on April 9, 2014, published an AP report on NATO’s top military commander in Europe, drafting countermoves to the Russian military threat against Ukraine, said they could include deployment of American troops to alliance member states in Eastern Europe now feeling at risk. Excerpts below:

U.S. Air ForceGen. Philip Breedlove told The Associated Press he wouldn’t “write off involvement by any nation, to include the United States.”

Foreign ministers of the 28-nation alliance have given Breedlove time to propose steps to reassure NATO members nearest Russia that other alliance countries have their back.

“Essentially what we are looking at is a package of land, air and maritime measures that would build assurance for our easternmost allies,” Breedlove told the AP. “I’m tasked to deliver this by next week. I fully intend to deliver it early.”

Asked again if American soldiers might be sent to NATO’s front-line states closest to Russia, the four-star U.S. general said, “I would not write off contributions from any nation.”

Speaking at the end of a NATO conference in Paris, Breedlove told the AP the Russian armed presence near Ukraine’s frontier continues unabated.

To illustrate his point, the general’s staff provided AP with a set of commercial satellite photographs they said showed Russian warplanes, combat helicopters, armor, artillery and a probable airborne or special forces brigade deployed in locations east of the Ukraine-Russian border, including along the coastline of the Sea of Azov. It was not immediately possible to independently verify the content of the photographs, which DigitalGlobe, the commercial provider, said were taken in late March.

“What we see there is a force of about 40,000,” Breedlove said. “I would characterize it as a combined arms army. In other words, this is an army that has all of the provisioning and enablers that it needs to accomplish military objectives if given them.”

The Russians’ assets include fixed and rotary wing aircraft, artillery, field hospitals, communications and jamming gear, he said.

Kremlin objectives remain unclear, the NATO commander said. The force could stand pat and intimidate Ukraine solely by its presence, drive south to create a land bridge with Crimea, push along the Black Sea coast to the Ukrainian port city of Odessa and the largely Russian Trans-Dniester enclave of Moldova, or invade other areas of eastern Ukraine where ethnic Russians are demanding unity with Russia, he said.

However the Russian contingent might ultimately be used, it’s “ready to go essentially at command. We talk about inside of 12 hours,” Breedlove said.

NATO has already reinforced its Baltic air patrols and is performing daily AWACs surveillance flights over Poland and Romania. Breedlove said he has already received enough pledges of maritime assets from NATO member states to carry out beefed-up maritime operations through the end of the year.

“The tougher piece is, how do we do the assurance piece on the land,” the general said. “Because these are measures which are more costly (and) if not done correctly, might appear provocative.”

“There is not a shortage of what we can use. It’s how do we use this in a measured way that indicates defensive capability so that we don’t provoke. And that’s what we will be working on,” Breedlove said before departing for NATO’s military headquarters near Mons, Belgium.