A Stable Europe Requires Russian Partnership, NATO Chief Says
Despite aggressions in Georgia, Crimea and the Ukraine, NATO's top commander still sees Russia as a potential partner to create a more stable Europe.
“We tried to work to normalize our relationship such that we could call Russia a partner. Of course what we’ve seen in the last several months is [that] we don’t have a partner,” Air Force Gen. Philip
Breedlove, commander of NATO forces in Europe, said Sept. 15 at the Air Force Association's annual conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
Breedlove added that without Russian cooperation, there is little hope for a united Europe.
“I truly believe that our vision of a Europe — whole, free, and at peace — requires Russia to be a part of that equation,” he said. He questioned whether it would be possible for NATO to continue its missions as it has while Russia continues to create unrest in the region.
“How do we take care of business from now until when we can bring them back into the fold to create this Europe?” he asked.
Russia had been a country the United States was hoping to turn into an ally in maintaining peace and security in Europe. He described a Russia that has a great deal of potential, which could — in cooperation with NATO — be a great force in steadying the region.
NATO will continue to use follow its two established missions of providing assurance to member nations who feel threatened, and deterring those who pose the threats, he added.
“The bottom line is NATO’s mission remains the same,” Breedlove said.
In a recent NATO summit, the member states agreed on what Breedlove called a “three-legged stool” readiness action plan. The three elements are: amended NATO reaction forces; a core element dedicated to-year round Article 5 activities, which requires member states to come to the aid of partners under attack; and a new forward element tasked with preparations and local exercises. Each element is designed to react should any situation arise, Breedlove said.
This plan could answer growing tensions in the region as a result of Russia's actions, Breedlove said.
He called Russia's maneuvers a "hybrid war."
“I believe that Russia learned a lot of hard lessons in Georgia. The way we’ve seen them prepare for the last two conflicts — first Crimea and then their incursion into Eastern Ukraine — is that they’ve learned their lessons from Georgia and they’ve corrected them,” Breedlove said.
“We see a nation that assembles a large force on the boundary of another nation on an internationally recognized border,” he said. “It brings that force to great readiness, it provides it all of the tools it needs, and it corrects the problems it saw in a previous conflict.”
He added: “The force then goes across an internationally recognized border and annexes a portion of a sovereign nation ... That is outside the norms we have expected in Europe over the last decade,” Breedlove said.
Russian actions in Eastern Ukraine were deplorable, he said. “The times of rearranging boundaries by force are over.”
Breedlove was confident in NATO's ability to protect its members.
“I think the largest changes to NATO in the history of man are going to take effect in the next year to two, and they will set the stage for what our alliance is able to do across the next several decades,” he said.