Washington Time on April 9, 2014, published an AP report on NATO’s top military commander in Europe, drafting countermoves to the Russian military threat against Ukraine, said they could include deployment of American troops to alliance member states in Eastern Europe now feeling at risk. Excerpts below:
U.S. Air ForceGen. Philip Breedlove told The Associated Press he wouldn’t “write off involvement by any nation, to include the United States.”
Foreign ministers of the 28-nation alliance have given Breedlove time to propose steps to reassure NATO members nearest Russia that other alliance countries have their back.
“Essentially what we are looking at is a package of land, air and maritime measures that would build assurance for our easternmost allies,” Breedlove told the AP. “I’m tasked to deliver this by next week. I fully intend to deliver it early.”
Asked again if American soldiers might be sent to NATO’s front-line states closest to Russia, the four-star U.S. general said, “I would not write off contributions from any nation.”
Speaking at the end of a NATO conference in Paris, Breedlove told the AP the Russian armed presence near Ukraine’s frontier continues unabated.
To illustrate his point, the general’s staff provided AP with a set of commercial satellite photographs they said showed Russian warplanes, combat helicopters, armor, artillery and a probable airborne or special forces brigade deployed in locations east of the Ukraine-Russian border, including along the coastline of the Sea of Azov. It was not immediately possible to independently verify the content of the photographs, which DigitalGlobe, the commercial provider, said were taken in late March.
“What we see there is a force of about 40,000,” Breedlove said. “I would characterize it as a combined arms army. In other words, this is an army that has all of the provisioning and enablers that it needs to accomplish military objectives if given them.”
The Russians’ assets include fixed and rotary wing aircraft, artillery, field hospitals, communications and jamming gear, he said.
Kremlin objectives remain unclear, the NATO commander said. The force could stand pat and intimidate Ukraine solely by its presence, drive south to create a land bridge with Crimea, push along the Black Sea coast to the Ukrainian port city of Odessa and the largely Russian Trans-Dniester enclave of Moldova, or invade other areas of eastern Ukraine where ethnic Russians are demanding unity with Russia, he said.
However the Russian contingent might ultimately be used, it’s “ready to go essentially at command. We talk about inside of 12 hours,” Breedlove said.
NATO has already reinforced its Baltic air patrols and is performing daily AWACs surveillance flights over Poland and Romania. Breedlove said he has already received enough pledges of maritime assets from NATO member states to carry out beefed-up maritime operations through the end of the year.
“The tougher piece is, how do we do the assurance piece on the land,” the general said. “Because these are measures which are more costly (and) if not done correctly, might appear provocative.”
“There is not a shortage of what we can use. It’s how do we use this in a measured way that indicates defensive capability so that we don’t provoke. And that’s what we will be working on,” Breedlove said before departing for NATO’s military headquarters near Mons, Belgium.