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Dempsey: Russia’s ethnic Crimea claim poses ‘significant risk’ to Eastern Europe

BY Larisa Epatko  March 7, 2014 at 2:35 PM EST

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday the U.S. is pushing “aggressively” for a diplomatic resolution to the Ukrainian Crimea tug-of-war with Russia and that he’s been in touch with his Russian counterpart daily.

He warned, however, of the consequences of a Russian takeover of Crimea.

“If Russia is allowed to do this, which is to say move into a sovereign country under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, it exposes Eastern Europe to some significant risk, because there are ethnic enclaves all over Eastern Europe and the Balkans,” he said.

Dempsey spoke to PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff in an interview airing on Friday’s broadcast.

“We’re trying to tell [the Russians] not to escalate this thing further into Eastern Ukraine, and allow the conditions to be set for some kind of resolution in the Crimea,” he said. “We’re seeking aggressively to resolve this diplomatically before we would reach the point where there could be a miscalculation.”

Dempsey said by sending additional military aircraft and warships to the region, the United States is aiming to reassure its NATO and other European allies that the U.S. will back up its NATO obligations if necessary.

“Remember, we do have treaty obligations with our NATO allies. And I have assured them that if that treaty obligation is triggered, we would respond.”

He also described calling his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, twice in the last two days to keep him abreast of the U.S. military’s moves. “Everything that we’ve done, I tell them, here’s what we’re doing. Here’s why we’re doing it, you know we disagree fundamentally about your claim of legitimacy, but as militaries, let’s try to avoid escalating this thing.”

There is a chance for military escalation, he acknowledged. When asked by Woodruff if the U.S. was prepared for that to happen, Dempsey responded: “That’s a question that I think deserves to be assessed and reassessed and refreshed as things evolve.”

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