Breedlove: More assets needed to counter Russia in Ukraine

Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, testifies at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, April 30, 2015.


By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 30, 2015

U.S. European Command needs more military assets, particularly in the area of intelligence and surveillance, if it is going to meet the growing security challenges it faces from Russia and other fronts, the top general in Europe said Thursday.

“There are critical gaps in our collection and analysis. Some Russian military exercises have caught us by surprise,” U.S. European Command’s Gen. Philip Breedlove told the Senate Armed Services Committee during testimony. “Getting this right requires more (surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance), high-powered analytical support, and appropriate intelligence sharing with allies and partners.”

Breedlove cautioned that his command is undersized for an unpredictable threat environment that includes “a revanchist Russia,” Islamic State fighters on NATO’s doorstep in Syria, and instability across northern Africa with the flood of migrants into Europe.

“Our forces are not sized for any of those three challenges” said Breedlove, who added that his command headquarters is now the smallest in the military.

Breedlove received support for his arguments from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said the U.S. can’t afford to downsize its presence in Europe. He cited the departure of two Army brigades in recent years and Wednesday’s announcement that dozens of Germany-based attack helicopters would return to the U.S.

“As Russia builds up, America draws down,” McCain said.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military presence in Europe has declined by about 75 percent. In addition to the loss of bases and troops, intelligence gathering capabilities have been diverted to other regions, Breedlove said.

Congress also will need to continue its support for the European Reassurance Initiative, a nearly $1 billion measure that funds activities aimed at reassuring eastern allies worried about Russia’s intentions, Breedlove said. He argued in favor of an increased rotational troop presence across Europe.

However, he said rotational forces on their own are insufficient to meet the challenges, and the U.S. must maintain a permanent forward presence in Europe.

“Our forward presence is the bedrock of our ability to reassure allies, deter real and potential adversaries, and to be postured to act in a timely manner should deterrence fail,” Breedlove said.

He expressed concern that a recent lull in the fighting in eastern Ukraine could be only temporary, as Russia continues to resupply separatists in what may be preparation for a new offensive.

“Russian forces used the opportunities presented by the recent lull in fighting to reset and reposition while protecting their gains,” he said. “Many of their actions are consistent with preparations for another offensive.”

U.S. State Department officials in recent days have stated they view separatists as a combined arm of the Russian military.

The Associated Press quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying Russia has increased its command and control of the separatists. The U.S. has begun to refer to “combined Russian-separatist forces,” AP reported, putting more of the responsibility on Moscow for the fighting. Russia continues to deny it’s directly involved in supporting the separatists militarily, but AP said U.S. officials cited increasing evidence of cooperation between Russia and the separatists under a joint command structure ultimately answering to Russia.

McCain said the U.S. should send lethal military aid to Ukraine, something the Obama administration has so far resisted for fear of escalating tensions with Russia.

“Nothing we have done has succeeded in deterring Putin’s aggression and halt his slow-motion annexation of eastern Ukraine,” McCain said. “The Ukrainian people aren’t asking for U.S. troops. They’re simply asking for the right tools to defend themselves and their country.”

When McCain asked whether the U.S. should send lethal arms to Ukraine, Breedlove stopped short of a direct endorsement.

“It would not make sense to take any of our own tools off the table,” Breedlove said.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin increases his military’s capabilities the U.S. and NATO will need to “strengthen our deterrence,” Breedlove said. “We also know that Putin responds to strength and sees opportunities in weakness.”

Twitter: @john_vandiver

Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, listens to the opening statements at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, April 30, 2015.