U.S. General: We Have ‘Hugged’ the Russian Bear for Too Long
By Daniel Wiser
U.S. commander in Europe calls for more forces and equipment to deter ‘a revanchist Russia’
The commander of U.S. forces in Europe says the United States has accommodated Russia for too long amid aggressive military actions by Moscow and a shrinking U.S. footprint in the region.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who is also NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, said that the United States had “hugged the bear” in Europe—a reference to Russia—after the fall of the Soviet Union in an attempt to promote cooperation with Moscow, the Department of Defense’s news service reported on Tuesday. Breedlove recently met with U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the headquarters of U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
After the rise of President Vladimir Putin, Russia explicitly rejected the outstretched hand of the United States, he said. He added that Russian intransigence began before Moscow’s recent airstrikes in Syria and support for separatists in a part of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbass.
“What I would offer is that if you look at Russia’s actions all the way back to ’08—in Georgia, in Nagorno-Karabakh, in Crimea, in the Donbass, and now down in Syria—we see what most call a revanchist Russia that has put force back on the table as an instrument of national power to meet their objectives,” he said in remarks to reporters.
While Putin has become more bellicose abroad, U.S. forces in Europe have declined. The New York Times reported in October that the United States has reduced its permanent troops in Europe by 35 percent since 2012, as well as withdrawn vehicles and weapons.
“Across that time … we have changed our force structure, we have changed our [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] allocations, we’ve changed our analytical allocations, [and] we’ve downsized the forces in all the media here in Europe,” Breedlove said.
He is now advocating for a more robust U.S. military presence in Europe. He noted that the Army has begun deploying a brigade-sized unit to the region, along with 200 M1 Abrams tanks and additional vehicles and weapons.
Yet it remains unclear if the bolstered forces will be enough to deter Russian adventurism. The United States currently has about 30,000 troops in Europe, compared to a height of 300,000 soldiers at the end of the Cold War. U.S. forces often have to borrow equipment from allies, such as British helicopters.
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