By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, October 30, 2015 — As security threats in Europe increase, the United States remains concerned about Russia's destabilizing actions in Ukraine and Syria, the commander of U.S. forces in Europe said here today.
"European security challenges continue to grow and become, frankly, more complex," Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, said at a Pentagon news conference.
"In fact, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that we are changing on almost a daily basis," the general said, adding that new threats and challenges seemingly emerge every day. "Given the complexity of challenges we face globally, it remains critical that we continue to work together with our allies and partners," he said.
Russia a 'Top Concern'
Russia's continued "aggressive actions and malign influence remain a top concern and a very high priority," Breedlove said. He noted although the ceasefire is still holding in eastern Ukraine, he is concerned with Russia's "lack of effort to end its occupations and honor its commitments in Ukraine."
In addition, Russia's intervention in Syria "continues to beg more questions than answers," Breedlove told reporters.
"Russia's actions prolong the conditions creating massive-scale immigration of refugees that is further worrying our southern allies, and the eastern allies continue to be concerned about Russian expansion," he said.
"These concerns, combined with the flow of foreign fighters, are a strategic challenge for all of Europe," Breedlove said.
"I continue to believe that we must strengthen our deterrence and that Eucom and our NATO alliance must continue to adapt by improving our readiness and responsiveness," he said.
Partnerships to Strengthen Europe
Breedlove said an example of improving readiness, interoperability and responsiveness in Europe is NATO's Trident Juncture exercise. It is NATO's largest exercise in more than a decade, and is currently taking place in Italy, Spain and Portugal. It involves more than 36,000 troops and 30 nations.
The exercise, Breedlove said, represents a "clear demonstration of NATO's resolve and capability," and is "enhancing our ability to work with our allies, partners and other international organizations in response to crisis situations."
Breedlove noted the United States is expanding its training program in Ukraine. While it started with Ukrainian national guard forces, it now includes training active military component troops. The expansion will strengthen Ukraine's capability and capacity to address the challenges that nation faces, the general said.
The U.S. focus for Ukraine, Breedlove told reporters, remains on a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. "We continue to call on Russia to fully cease its destabilizing actions in eastern Ukraine, to end its occupation of Crimea and to fully honor its Minsk commitments," he said.
Vital Partner in ISIL Fight
The situation around Turkey continues to become more complex, Breedlove explained.
"Now a critical partner in degrading and defeating ISIL, we greatly appreciate the vital support Turkey provides to the international coalition across many lines of effort," he said. The use of Turkish bases for U.S. aircraft continues to be an important force multiplier, he added.
However, Russian actions are complicating the situation in Syria, the general said. Russia is being "pretty forward" about the fact that they are bombing the moderate Syrian opposition and other groups in the northern area, he noted.
"That raises questions about what is our future path in Syria,” Breedlove said. “I think all understand that we need a political transition in Syria. The moderate opposition is a part of forcing that political decision. The actions we see the Russians taking now, we believe, prolong this conflict, which prolongs the problem of the flow out of people into Europe and other places."
The concern, Breedlove explained, is that the eyes of the world are shifting away from Russian actions in Ukraine to Russian involvement in Syria.
"That is a technique that I think has been employed here a couple of times," he said. "Invade Crimea, take the world's eyes off of Crimea by invading Donbas. Take the world's eyes off of Dombas by getting involved in Syria."
Russian actions are part of a larger construct, he said. "We need to be thinking holistically about our response to Russia," he added.