UPDATE: This story has been updated throughout to reflect breaking news events in Ukraine.
Call it a modern day battlefield demarche. Gen. Phil Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander, took to Twitter and Facebook to reach Ukraine’s new military chiefs and request talks with toward ending the violent uprisings now drawing worldwide attention.
“I am calling upon the new military leadership in Ukraine to open a dialog with us to bring this situation to a peaceful resolution,” Breedove wrote on his Twitter feed, @PMBreedlove.
As NATO’s military commander I ask that responsible leaders avoid the use of military force against the people of Ukraine.— Phil Breedlove (@PMBreedlove) February 19, 2014
I am calling upon the new military leadership in Ukraine to open a dialog with us to bring this situation to a peaceful resolution.— Phil Breedlove (@PMBreedlove) February 19, 2014
The general’s surprising social media notice appeared shortly after President Barack Obama warned Ukraine that “there will be consequences” from the United States and European allies if the government and protestors don’t “show restraint.”
The White House released the president’s statement, which he made earlier in the day in Mexico while speaking to reporters.
“There will be consequences if people step over the line. And that includes making sure the Ukrainian military does not step into what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians,” Obama said.
On Facebook, Breedlove added, “As NATO’s military commander I ask that responsible leaders avoid the use of military force against the people of Ukraine.”
Within hours, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced he had reached a truce with opposition leaders, according to multiple news sources.
The statement by Breedlove, a U.S. Air Force general who is also commander of U.S. forces in Europe, is a clear indicator that the Pentagon is worried that Ukraine’s protests — which began in November as a show of support for the European Union against closer ties with Russia — have erupted into a potentially destabilizing event for the region. Now there is worry Ukraine’s military may be positioning itself for an internal crackdown alongside the state’s security forces.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fired the country’s chief of defense, Colonel General Volodymyr Zamana and replaced him with Ukraine’s navy chief, Admiral Yuriy Ilyin. According to the BBC, the shakeup of top brass “came hours after the head of the top security agency, Oleksandr Yakimenko, said an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ was being launched after ‘extremist groups’ seized government buildings and arms depots.”
As events unfolded, NATO spokesman Col. Martin Downie, in an email, told Defense One that Breedlove’s social media posts were “just a straight forward outreach to the new military leadership there for communication and restraint. Wouldn’t read more into it.”