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Military expert: Russia will move into eastern Ukraine and beyond

As President Obama meets with Western allies this week to discuss the situation in Ukraine, many have expressed fear that Russia might move into more territory beyond Crimea.

In an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingle, Col. Cederic Leighton, USAF (Ret.), gave his take on Russia’s next move. Leighton currently serves as president of Cedric Leighton Associates, a crisis management and strategic risk consultancy.

He says the likelihood of Russia moving further into eastern Ukraine is increasing each day. “Reason I think we can see that is the Russians are already conducting exercises once again near [Ukraine].”

Leighton says Moscow is strategically planning out its next move.

“The Russians have a playbook they are using and that playbook involves getting their troops ready for an invasion, or at least a movement through Ukraine if they feel the need to do so,” Leighton said. “I definitely expect them to move into eastern Ukraine and probably other areas as well.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the need to protect Russian-ethnic populations as the basis for his invasion of Crimea. Leighton fears this could be used again.

“The end goal in my mind is for him to control as much of the Russian-speaking areas as he possibly can,” Leighton said. “When it comes to Ukraine … he is looking at areas with [a] significant Russian population.”

One way to counter Russia’s military, Leighton believes, is stronger action taken by NATO. “If you don’t give the Russians a strong response, they are just going to continue to take … for as long as they can … and so far our movement to say ‘enough’ hasn’t been strong.”

He suggests the U.S. military beef up its presence in NATO countries near Russia and Ukraine.

“There is some movement into the Baltic states and into Poland … but there has to be much more than that,” Leighton said. “Russians have to take note that if they go any further, there will be significant repercussions.”