The Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, who has in the past rattled European colleagues with his aggressive stance toward Russia, suggested to Congress yesterday that separatist forces backed by Moscow are preparing for another offensive in eastern Ukraine.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove continued to insist that the “revanchist” Vladimir Putin regime presents a serious threat to peace in Europe. He said that the U.S. force under his command is too small to “deter further Russian aggression,” fight ISIS in Syria, and deal with the flood of North African migrants spilling into Europe.
The general also said the U.S. European Command is receiving inadequate intelligence about Russia’s military activity.
“There are critical gaps in our [intelligence] collection and analysis. Some Russian military exercises have caught us by surprise,” Breedlove said. He asked lawmakers to authorize increased intelligence-gathering capacity and provide additional resources for more intelligence sharing and analysis.
Breedlove’s concern about countering Russia has, at times, seemed like overkill to U.S. allies in the region. In March, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that top German officials were concerned about Breedlove putting the most dire spin on all news coming out of Ukraine, calling the U.S. general’s comments “dangerous propaganda.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier went so far as to complain to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
However, in testimony delivered Thursday, Breedlove was no less adamant about the threat Russia poses.
“Since the beginning of 2014, President Putin’s Russia has abandoned all pretense of participating in a collaborative security process with its European neighbors and the international community,” he said in prepared remarks. “Instead, Russia has employed ‘hybrid warfare’ (which includes regular, irregular, and cyber forms of war as well as political and economic intimidations) to illegally seize Crimea, foment separatist fever in several sovereign nations, and maintain frozen conflicts within its so-called ‘sphere of influence’ or ‘near abroad.’
Further, Breedlove told lawmakers, evidence collected by numerous non-governmental groups demonstrates that Russia has been supplying both troops and equipment to Ukrainian separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The scene of heavy fighting earlier this year, Donbas has been relatively quiet since a shaky truce took hold in February.
In the months since the ceasefire, he said, separatist troops have strengthened and repositioned themselves, with Russian assistance. “We see a very distinct Russian set of command and control” in eastern Ukraine, he told senators.
Russian officials have consistently denied direct involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukraine and have recently begun countering Western assertions of Russian involvement with counter-claims that U.S. mercenaries are fighting alongside Ukrainian troops.
The state-run TASS news agency has reported claims by militia leaders in Donbas that they at one point encountered “70 representatives of the private military company Academi.” (Academi is the name of the security contractor formerly known as Blackwater.)
On Thursday, TASS reported that a team of “unidentified special task force” soldiers had conducted a raid in Donbas, killing several separatists.
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