Carter: Russian Aggression Here to Stay

By Allyson Versprille

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

As President Vladimir Putin further entrenches his country into the Syrian conflict, it appears that Russian aggression around the globe will continue, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Oct. 14.
“[We] are thinking about a different kind of campaign to deter Russian aggression, which by the way, that’s something for a quarter century we didn’t think about much. We didn’t think we had to do,” he said. “It’s now obviously an unwelcomed development that I wish would change but I frankly don’t expect to change any time soon.”

This is a “new reality” for the United States, and a new playbook for the 21st century is needed, he said during a luncheon keynote at the Association of the United States’ Army annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Russia sent shockwaves around the world when it annexed Crimea last year. It also stoked controversy after it entered the conflict in Syria in late September. Carter said Russia would only further complicate the already precarious situation as rebel forces fight against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

“Russia's behavior in Syria is concerning, and crosswise with the sensible course of action. Instead of engaging in a political transition in Syria, which is needed in that long-suffering country, Russia has chosen to double down on their longstanding relationship with Assad — committing additional military hardware, capabilities and personnel,” he said.

Carter noted that while the Kremlin has said it is targeting the Islamic State and al-Nusra, U.S. intelligence indicates that it is actually bombing anti-Assad rebels. “This is a fundamental and strategic mistake, one that will enflame and prolong the Syrian civil war,” he said.

The United States will not cooperate with Russia as long as it continues to pursue this strategy, he added. Since it entered Syria, Russian forces have engaged in “unprofessional behavior,” Carter said.

“They’ve violated Turkish airspace — which we strongly affirmed in Brussels last week is NATO airspace. They’ve shot cruise missiles from a ship in the Caspian Sea without warning. They’ve come within just a few miles of one of our unmanned aerial vehicles,” he said.

Russia has also begun a joint ground offensive alongside Assad's forces, which shatters the façade that it is there to stop ISIL, Carter said.

“Despite recent irresponsible behavior by the Russians, we will continue to prosecute the counter-ISIL campaign with the same determination and in the same battle space as we have since it started in Syria,” he said.

Russia still has the opportunity to change course, but Carter said it was unclear if the country would. “From the Kamchatka Peninsula through South Asia, into the Caucasus and around to the Baltics,

Russia has continued to wrap itself in a shroud of isolation,” he said. “Only the Kremlin can decide to change that.”

Carter also demanded that the government pass a real budget for defense.

“Congress has failed to pass a defense appropriations bill in time to start the fiscal year for seven straight years. And for the past four, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies have been struggling against the impacts of sequestration,” he said. “The Department of Defense has done its best to manage through this prolonged period of budget uncertainty, making painful choices and tradeoffs between size, capabilities and readiness of the joint force.”

This “herky jerky” type of budgeting cannot become the new normal. It has put the Pentagon in a straitjacket as it attempts to keep troops well equipped and in a state of readiness, he said.

“Making indiscriminate cuts is managerially inefficient and … actually wasteful to taxpayers and industry,” he said. “It’s dangerous for our strategy, and frankly, it’s embarrassing.”

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Policy, War Planning, International

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