By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2015 – Europe faces a different and more challenging security environment than it did just a year ago, including an increasingly aggressive Russia and a surge of violent extremism, Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove said here yesterday.
Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and Allied Command Operations for NATO, told the Pentagon press corps that countries in the region have concerns about a resurgent Russia that is exercising power and influence.
“The challenge,” he said, “is global, not regional, and enduring, not temporary.”
The most visible instance of Russian aggression started a year ago with that nation’s illegal occupation of Crimea, followed by its fueling and continuing armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
Seeking a Political Solution
Breedlove said the actions violate international laws and norms and that a political solution is the best way to bring the conflict to a lasting end.
But, he added, “since the beginning of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine we have seen evidence of direct, wide-ranging Russian involvement from the supply of basic military equipment to logistics, command and control, air defense, and the list goes on.”
Unidentified Russian specialized troops who first appeared in Crimea now direct and train pro-Russian separatists, Breedlove said. And evidence shows that Russia fired artillery over its border into Eastern Ukraine during the initial stages of the conflict, the general said.
Russia also has transferred more than 1,000 pieces of Russian military equipment into Ukraine, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery pieces, and other military vehicles, he noted, that have been used on the front lines against Ukrainian forces.
“What we see on the ground is a revanchist Russia that does not play by international rules or norms [and] their activities are destabilizing to neighboring states … and have a global impact,” Breedlove said.
A Surge of Violent Extremism
At the same time, Breedlove added, Europe faces a surge of violent extremism.
“The inhuman public execution of hostages and captives by [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] shows just what a deadly threat they pose,” the general said, “and European nations are rightly worried about foreign fighters returning home to Europe from the fight in Syria and Iraq, with new skills and malign intent.”
Attacks like those in France, Belgium and Denmark are likely to become more frequent, he added, calling foreign fighters part of a broader pattern of insecurity along the southern border of Europe.
The spread of instability in Europe and the reach of transnational terrorism have a direct bearing on U.S. national security and the homeland, Breedlove said.
Eucom is working with European nations bilaterally and as part of NATO to meet and counter such challenges, the general said, and addressing those challenges means that U.S. efforts in Europe “remain utterly essential, more important now than any time in recent history.”
Last year, Eucom rushed land and air forces to the Baltics and Poland to reassure them and the NATO alliance of the U.S. commitment to their security as Russian aggression in Eastern Europe became evident, Breedlove said.
“The reason we responded quickly is because we were there, forward, ready and postured correctly,” he added.
“There is simply no substitute for our forward presence in Europe,” the general continued. “It is the bedrock of our ability to assure our allies and to deter real and potential adversaries and to respond in a timely way if, God forbid, deterrents should fail.”
Elements of National Power
On the challenge from Russia to Ukraine, Breedlove said if the economic tool of sanctions and the military tool of nonlethal aid to Ukraine aren’t successful, it will still be possible to employ informational and diplomatic tools.
“Russia is placing incredible pressure on all four elements of national power [on Ukraine] -- diplomatic, informational, military and economic,” Breedlove said.
“We should answer in all four tools of national power as well,” the general said, “to change [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s decision calculus about what he should take on in Eastern Ukraine.”
Breedlove said Putin has set the bar and the ante very high in his interactions in Eastern Ukraine.
Finding a Way Forward
“None of us knows what Mr. Putin will decide. If we take action, many believe he'll accelerate. If we take action, others believe it may raise the cost to him and he might take another decision. So I think it's appropriate that we judge what we think will happen and find a way forward,” the general said.
“What is clear is that right now,” he added, “it is not getting better, it is getting worse every day.”
Breedlove characterized Putin and his military actions as indicating he is “all in and that they will proceed until their objectives are accomplished.”
Breedlove said some people think that Putin, with these actions, is messaging, trying to influence Western decisions.
“Clearly he's not happy with, for instance, our [European Phased Adaptive Approach] moving forward,” the general said, referring to the European part of the ballistic missile defense system.
“Maybe he's trying to adjust our decisions on that,” Breedlove added.
“I think one of Mr. Putin's main objectives in many of the things he does,” the general said, “is to try to divide the West, to try to divide the European Union in its approach to sanctions, et cetera, to try to divide NATO in its approach to military solidarity on issues just like this one.”