Just a day after the US Navy said it was prepared to escort US-flagged cargo ships through the Strait of Hormuz as a precautionary measure after Iran supposedly fired on and subsequently seized a ship flying the Marshall Islands flag, we get still more sabre rattling in what has become a global staring match between the US on one side and Russia, Iran, and China on the other, with points of contention ranging from territorial sovereignty in Eastern Europe, to man-made islands in the South China Sea, to nuclear energy, to cyber warfare. This time it's U.S. Air Force General and NATO supreme allied commander Philip Breedlove ratcheting up the rhetoric (and perhaps suggesting that the Kremlin is correct in its assessment of US foreign policy) by suggesting to the Senate that Russia is planning to shatter what remains of the fragile ceasefire in Ukraine by launching an imminent offensive.
Russia's military may be taking advantage of a recent lull in fighting in eastern Ukraine to lay the groundwork for a new military offensive, NATO's top commander told the U.S. Congress on Thursday.
U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the NATO supreme allied commander, said Russian forces had been seeking to "reset and reposition" while protecting battlefield gains, despite a fragile ceasefire agreed in February.
And while the general had trouble explaining exactly how he came to this conclusion based on the evidence he had observed, he did come prepared with plenty of vague soundbites which, although largely devoid of any real meaning, sounded scary enough to get the attention of the media and will probably play well with the 348 members of the House who not long ago voted to provide lethal aid to Kiev. Here are some excerpts from the DoD press release:
“Many [Russian] actions are consistent with preparations for another offensive,” he added. Russia is aggressive in all elements of national power -- diplomatic, informational, economic, and its military, the general said.
“It would not make sense to unnecessarily take any of our own tools off the table,” he said about the U.S. possibility of supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine.
Russia’s aggression also is destabilizing neighboring states and the region, and its illegal actions are pushing instability closer to NATO’s boundaries, Breedlove told the senators.
“We cannot be fully certain what Russia will do next, and we cannot fully grasp [Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s] intent,” Breedlove he said. “What we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.”
Got it. So summarizing, we cannot be certain about Putin’s intent, but based on his actions, we can be certain that his intent is both ambitious and strategic. Note that Breedlove has managed to pull off what we thought was a linguistic impossibility: his statement is contradictory, vague, and definitive all at once.
Here is what the general wants from Congress:
With the strong threat posed by Russia and the growing challenge in southern Europe, Breedlove said, Eucom needs help from Congress in three areas.
The first, he said, is a persistent U.S. forward presence in Europe, which he called the bedrock of the United States’ ability to assure allies, deter adversaries and be postured to act timely if deterrence fails.
Second, he said, is for Congress to provide for sufficient intelligence support, after Russia’s operations in Ukraine the past year underscored critical gaps in intelligence collection and analysis.
“Russian military exercises have caught us by surprise, and our textured feel for Russian involvement on the ground in Ukraine has been quite limited,” Breedlove emphasized.
Earlier warning also will assist with counterterrorism and operations in the European theater against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, he said. “A small investment in this capability could lead to a large return and our understanding of the complex challenges we face,” he added.
Congress also must provide sufficient future resourcing with European Reassurance Initiative funding support in fiscal year 2016. ERI support in fiscal 2015 showed the U.S. commitment to its allies, helped to shape the European theater and allowed Eucom to build and sustain partner capacity, Breedlove said.
“Key components of ERI in fiscal ’16 include maintaining air superiority presence, participating in NATO exercises, supporting rotational presence of an armored brigade combat team, prepositioning equipment [and] funding the Global Response Force exercises, in addition to other needs,” he added
In summary: a “persistent forward presence in Europe,” “sufficient intelligence support” to counter Russia, continued participation in “NATO exercises,” and the provisioning of “prepositioning equipment” and “sufficient future resourcing [to] help shape the European theater.”
Consider that, and then recall the following assessment of US foreign policy penned by Putin’s security council in March:
The armed forces are considered as the basis of US national security and military superiority is considered a major factor in the American world leadership. While maintaining the continuity of the plants to use military force unilaterally and anywhere in the world, as well as to maintain a military presence abroad...
Significant efforts by the US and its allies will be directed to the formation of anti-Russian policy states, with which Russia has established partnership relations, as well as to reduce Russian influence in the former Soviet Union.
Continue the policy of preserving the global dominance of the United States, increasing the combat capabilities of NATO, as well as to strengthen the US military presence in the Asia-Tihokeanskom region. Military force will continue to be considered as the primary means of ensuring national security and interests of the United States.
Becoming more widespread to eliminate unwanted US political regimes acquire advanced technology "color revolutions" with a high probability of their application in relation to Russia.
As we said before: that sounds pretty accurate to us.
Meanwhile, note that Breedlove managed to sneak a reference to the ISIS bogeymen into his request, because when you need Congress to get behind a plan to expend more resources on a proxy war, there's nothing like suggesting that a failure to act will somehow facilitate the spread of radical Islamic militants to shore up support.