Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Breedlove: Russia, Violent Extremism Challenge Europe

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.

Countering Challenges

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.

Russian Objectives

“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.”

Sanctions Having a Mixed Effect on Russia, Officials Say

By Nick Simeone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2015 – U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russia for its support of Ukrainian separatists and the annexation of Crimea are having a significant impact on Russia’s economy but have not curtailed Moscow’s continued intervention in the region, two senior Defense Department officials told Congress today.

“We are hearing, for example, more dissatisfaction of the oligarchs, who to date have been very supportive of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Christine E. Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on security threats to Europe that focused largely on Russia’s threat to Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

Regarding the sanctions, the Russian oligarchs “are concerned about the impact it is having on their businesses, on their own financial holdings, but it has not changed so far what Russia has been doing on the ground, and that is the great concern,” Wormuth said during her testimony.

She added, “That is where there is the need again to look at the overall package of cost-imposing strategies toward Russia and also support to Ukraine to see if we can change the calculus.”

Assistance for Ukraine

In addition to ongoing military exercises and a stepped-up NATO presence in Eastern Europe, the Obama administration has committed $118 million in nonlethal aid and training to the Ukrainian government in Kiev and a similar amount for fiscal year 2015.

Ukraine’s government, which has lost control of significant portions of the eastern part of the country to Russian-backed rebels since fighting began a year ago, has asked allies -- including the United States -- for lethal aid.

“There is various discussion of providing defensive lethal assistance in an effort to again raise costs on Russia, not from the perspective at all of being able to fundamentally alter the military balance … but to try to give Ukraine more ability to defend itself against the separatist aggression,” Wormuth said in answer to legislators’ questions. In fact, Wormuth and Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, both told lawmakers they did not know how Putin would respond if the West began supplying lethal aid to the government in Kiev. However, “what we’re doing now is not changing the results on the ground,” Breedlove said.

More Economic Pressure

Wormuth said pressure should continue on all fronts and that stepped-up economic and financial isolation of Russia could prove more effective than providing lethal aid to the Ukrainian government, a move that she said could lead Russia to “double down” on its support for Ukrainian separatists and thereby escalate the conflict.

Ultimately, Breedlove said, he does not think the Ukrainian military is capable of stopping further Russian advances and that the best resolution to the year-old conflict remains a diplomatic one. Even so, neither he nor Wormuth expressed confidence that a cease-fire agreement reached earlier this month in Belarus -- the second such agreement in five months -- would hold.

“Mr. Putin has not accomplished his objectives yet in Ukraine, so next is probably more action,” Breedlove said. He suggested Moscow knows what lines are not worth crossing, testifying that while “pressure is being brought [by Russia] on nations to keep them from leaning West,” Breedlove felt the Russian president is well aware of NATO’s obligation to come to the defense of any member threatened with attack.

“I do believe that Mr. Putin understands Article 5, but I do not believe that that would preclude Mr. Putin from taking some actions in reaching out to the disparate Russian-speaking populations that are in some [of] our easternmost nations in NATO,” Breedlove said, referring primarily to the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Turning to another security concern, both defense officials described instability in the Middle East, in particular the control that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has over territory just to the south of Europe.

“The flow of returning foreign terrorist fighters to Europe and the United States in both the near- and mid-term poses a significant risk, including to our forward-based forces in Europe,” Breedlove said, and “is likely to grow more complex for the next decade or longer.”

Leaders Reaffirm U.S.-Egypt Security Partnership

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2015 – Defense Secretary Ash Carter telephoned Egyptian Minister of Defense Gen. Sedki Sobhy today and expressed his condolences to Egypt for victims of recent terrorist attacks and his desire to work closely with Sobhy as the U.S. and Egypt cooperate to meet security challenges, Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

Sobhy thanked Carter for U.S. support to Egypt and expressed his views on the need to strengthen global coalitions against terrorism and extremism, Kirby said.

The two leaders, the admiral added, reaffirmed their shared commitment to strengthening the security partnership between Egypt and the United States.