By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, April 17, 2015 – Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work participated in what he called a wide-ranging and frank discussion with U.S. European Command leaders in Stuttgart, Germany, today, listening to the challenges they face in the theater and how the command plans to balance them.
“They worry about foreign fighters that flow back and forth, they worry about all the illicit forms of trafficking that come up from the south, and then, of course, there is all the activity in Ukraine,” Work said in an interview on the way back to Washington.
The deputy secretary said he particularly wanted to hear their thoughts on Eastern Europe and the Russian activities in Ukraine.
“It was a very interesting and frank conversation,” he said, “and it is invaluable to me -- someone who sits in the Pentagon most of the time -- to hear commanders in the field talk about issues.”
Work spoke with a group composed of officers in the field and members of the intelligence community so they could cross-talk to each other. “One of the things that is evident is over the past 13 years of war we’ve focused on the Central Command area of responsibility, and therefore, the majority of our intelligence focus has been in that area, as you would expect in a time of war,” the deputy secretary said.
Lessons of Cold War
European Command needs some of the intelligence expertise it once had when the command was America’s bulwark against the Soviet Union, Work said. “Eucom is thinking about a lot of the lessons of the Cold War that we need to think about again,” he added.
Since 1989, Work noted, the entire U.S. national strategy has been trying to get Russia into Europe as a contributing partner. “We believed for the longest time we were doing well in making them a partner,” he said. “But President [Vladimir] Putin has surprised us. It’s clear that he doesn’t want to be a partner.”
But Russia did sign the Minsk Agreement, Work pointed out, and he called on Putin to honor that pact. “We’ve asked for Russia to remove all its troops from Ukraine,” he said. “We’ve asked them to stop supplying separatists, because that has caused the separatists to violate the Minsk agreement. Right now, I’m satisfied the strategy is a good one. But like any strategy, it’s an interactive game. It depends on what the other side is thinking.”
Seeking Impartial Monitors in Ukraine
Putin is not admitting the troops in Eastern Ukraine are Russian, even though Eucom and NATO have shown the world the proof. “President Putin is lying to the Russian people; there are Russians in eastern Ukraine,” Work said.
“We would welcome impartial monitors to look on both sides [and have been] trying to get [Organization of Security Cooperation in Europe] monitors in,” he added. “It would be very interesting to hear how President Putin explains when there is clear evidence that his people are there.”
Also, Work said, in the 13 years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russian and Chinese capabilities expanded “faster than we anticipated.”
The most recent Quadrennial Defense Review looked at two combatant commands as being the most challenging: U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Central Command, Work said, and Russia’s actions in illegally annexing Crimea from Ukraine and its continued actions in eastern Ukraine add U.S. European Command to the list.
“We are trying to make Russia and China partners in the international order,” the deputy secretary said. “We do not want to fight them. The key question now is asking what are their aims, what would deter them, and how do we keep from getting into a crisis?”