Moscow has enough forces to achieve its goals in three to five days if it invades eastern Ukraine, the top U.S. commander in Europe said an interview Wednesday, arguing that the U.S. needs to re-examine where and how its troops are deployed in Europe in light of a newly assertive Russia.
“We think it is ready to go and we think it could accomplish its objectives in between three and five days if directed to make the actions,” Breedlove told Reuters news service.
Foreign Policy magazine noted that before March, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove’s primary concern was holding the line against cuts to U.S. military personnel in Europe, where there are now about 67,000 troops, down from about 100,000 in 1990 and some 400,000 at the height of the Cold War.
Although the Pentagon has announced no public proposals to draw down U.S. forces, European Command has been seen by some as low-hanging budgetary fruit since before February.
“For years, [European Command] has been the natural bill payer,” said Mark Jacobson, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, using Pentagon-speak for a command or program forced to accept cuts in favor of other defense programs.
Breedlove was to testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday on the EUCOM budget, in which force structure is considered as part of coming defense bills. He was instead sent back to Europe to deal with the Ukraine situation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reportedly had ordered a partial withdrawal of forces massed near eastern Ukraine, but Breedlove offered a strikingly different assessment.
“I must tell you that we do not see that yet,” Breedlove said in the interview. “We are looking for it, and we have not seen movements to the rear.”
Moscow maintains its troops have been sent to the border for military exercises, but Breedlove told Foreign Policy that the troops were so well equipped that they could cross into eastern Ukraine within 12 hours and take control within several days. Breedlove said Russia had deployed “the whole package” to the border, including helicopters and attack aircraft, as well as jamming systems and cyber assets.
The crisis is helping Breedlove make the case that no further cuts to U.S. forces in Europe should be made. In fact, he said, the military footprint in Europe should be rethought altogether in light of what has unfolded in recent weeks.
A Pentagon review of infrastructure due this summer will recommend a number of reductions across Europe, Foreign Policy reported. Defense officials have declined to say how the events of recent weeks may affect that review’s findings.
Breedlove has acknowledged that there is excess infrastructure for U.S. basing, but is adamant that the United States must endeavor to do a comprehensive examination of how the U.S. military is deployed throughout Europe.
“The question now,” he said, “is how is the force positioned and provisioned to prepare us for a new paradigm.”