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Officials warn of more Russian aggression

| Monday, March 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea — American and Ukrainian officials warned on Sunday that Russia might be poised to expand its territorial conquest into eastern Ukraine and beyond, with a senior NATO official saying that Moscow might order its troops to cross Ukraine to reach Moldova.

The warnings were made as Russia was finalizing its takeover of Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, the peninsula it occupied at the start of March and subsequently annexed.

“We don't know what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has in his mind and what will be his decision,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said on ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “That's why this situation is becoming even more explosive than it used to be a week ago.”

In Brussels, Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, said Russia had assembled a large force on Ukraine's eastern border that could be planning to head for Moldova's separatist Transnistria region, 200 miles away.

Ukrainian officials have been warning for weeks that Russia is trying to provoke a conflict in eastern Ukraine, a charge that Russia denies. But Breedlove said Russian ambitions do not stop there.

“There is absolutely sufficient force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transnistria if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome,” he said.

Meanwhile, three Ukrainian military officers were missing and believed to be held by Russian forces, a Ukrainian official said, as the Russians continued to seek full control of the peninsula's military sites.

And navy Capt. V. M. Demyanenko, was taken by the Russians in Sevastopol on Sunday morning and his whereabouts remained unknown by evening.

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