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Russia's intervention in Crimea part of wider strategy: NATO

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during an event at Georgetown University on March 19, 2014 in Washington
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during an event at Georgetown University on March 19, 2014 in Washington

The head of NATO said Wednesday the alliance was worried Russia might extend its intervention beyond Crimea into eastern Ukraine and that the crisis reflected a wider "strategy" by Moscow to exert control in the region.

"Our major concern right now is whether he (President Vladimir Putin) will go beyond Crimea, whether Russia will intervene in the eastern parts. . ." of Ukraine, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during an event in Washington.

Denouncing the moves in the Crimean peninsula as "military aggression," Rasmussen said Russia's actions were part of a long-running pattern across the region to block nations from forging ties with the West.

"If you look at all of this, you will see an overall Russian strategy," he told an audience at the Brookings Institution think tank.

"It serves their long term strategic interests to keep instability in that region that can be used, among other things, to prevent countries in that region to seek Euro-Atlantic integration.

"That's my main concern."

Ramussen cited a "pattern" of "frozen, protracted conflicts" in breakaway regions in Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan and now Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Sending troops into Crimea was part "a more long-term, Russian or at least Putin strategy," he added.

The NATO chief also said he expected alliance ministers to agree to bolstering assistance to Ukraine at an upcoming meeting but he did not specify what kind of aid might be approved.

US officials have said they are reviewing a request from Kiev for military support, including arms, ammunition and non-lethal equipment.

So far Washington has only agreed to provide military rations to Ukraine.