WASHINGTON – Russia appears to be underwhelmed by the deployment of American troops to Poland, on Ukraine’s border, as Russia’s foreign minister has threatened to respond as Moscow did in 2008 when it invaded the Republic of Georgia, claiming ethnic Russians were in danger.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued the warning despite the U.S. announcement that it was deploying an initial 600 troops for military exercises in Poland and in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, where there are large concentrations of ethnic Russians. The four nations all belong to NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
If attacked, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty would be implemented, requiring all NATO members to come to their assistance.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that as many as 10,000 U.S. troops could be deployed in Poland.
Signaling a change in overall strategic defense policy, Hagel said the U.S. needs to “re-pivot back to Europe from Asia to confront “Russian aggression” in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Lavrov insists Russia is merely protecting its interests.
“If we are attacked, we would certainly respond,” he said.
“If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia, for example, I do not see nay other way but to respond in full accordance with international law,” he said.
South Ossetia is a breakaway province of Georgia in the South Caucasus. In 2008, Russian troops moved also into the other Georgian breakaway province of Abkhazia. Tanks and troops reached the edge of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, before Putin, who then was Russia’s prime minister, halted the advance after five days, due to pressure from President George W. Bush.
Russia then declared South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries, which the international community largely does not recognize.
Georgian sources tell WND that Russia intends to take action similar to what it did in Crimea by annexing South Ossetia to the Russian Federation. It’s part of an overall Russian strategy to set up buffer zones against NATO encroachment to the Russian border.
Residents of South Ossetia are said to be in favor of annexation, since there is a large concentration of ethnic Russians there.
“Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” Lavrov told Russia Today in an interview that is to be broadcast later Wednesday.
Lavrov denied that Russian troops are in Ukraine, although regional sources tell WND that the pro-Russian troops in uniforms without any markings are Russian Spetznaz, or special forces. The forces now have entered into eastern Ukraine, where ethnic Russians have been demonstrating to be annexed to Russia.
“The only thing I would like to highlight at this stage is that the Russian troops are on the Russian territory,” Lavrov said, without elaboration.
Lavrov also accused the United States of controlling the actions of the pro-West Ukrainian government, saying that Washington was not “running the show” in Kiev.
“There is no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show in the most direct way,” Lavrov said.
Relations between the U.S. and Russia seriously deteriorated following the February ouster of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which Moscow has declared to be an illegal takeover.