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NATO Commander: Alliance Must Reconsider Russia Relationship


NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe U.S. General Philip M. Breedlove (R) speaks with Ukraine's acting Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval (2nd L) during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in the format of the North Atlantic Council with Non-ISAF contribut

NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe U.S. General Philip M. Breedlove (R) speaks with Ukraine's acting Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval (2nd L) during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in the format of the North Atlantic Council with Non-ISAF contribut

NATO's military commander says the alliance must reconsider its force positioning and readiness because of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove says that for more than a decade the United States and its allies have viewed Russia as a partner.

"And NATO has taken decisions in force structure, force readiness and force positioning based on that, that Russia would be a partner. Right now, Russia is acting like anything but a partner," he said. "So we will need to revisit those decisions."

In recent months, he says, NATO saw Russia mass troops along the border of Ukraine and forcibly annex Crimea. That means the alliance will have to adapt.

"That changes the way we do the business. So we are now reevaluating how we do these things as it relates to force readiness, responsiveness and positioning," he said.

The general spoke Thursday with VOA journalist Henry Ridgwell, following events to mark the 70th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion of France in World War II.

Breedlove says that as the NATO military commander, he has been asked to develop "reassurance measures" to help shore up military readiness and cooperation with the Baltic nations and Poland. Those NATO states border Russia and are concerned that Moscow might try assert claims to their territory.

"We have a robust response, a very fast, dramatic response of our air forces forward to pick up air policing and air defense," he said. "We now have a strong showing and a very sustainable force posture on the maritime. And during the recent defense ministerial which I just returned from literally yesterday, pledges by many nations for good, strong, land presence in a temporary or exercise fashion."

Those programs will continue throughout this year, and Breedlove says, NATO leaders may decide to extend them at their summit in September.

He says NATO is engaging with Ukrainian officials, to help build its defense capacity. But he said it is not up to NATO to bring nations into the alliance. Countries must ask for that, and meet conditions to join. And he says, NATO understands that Russia would see membership for Ukraine as a "step toward Russia" for the alliance.

The general also spoke of the ceremonies on Thursday and Friday to mark the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings - when tens of thousands of Allied troops stormed the Normandy beaches. With the surviving veterans now in their 80s and 90s, the general says it is crucial for the memories of that war be passed on.

And he says he will never forget the 92-year-old veteran of the landing who marched alongside him, with NATO troops, in commemoration ceremonies.

"When we started marching, he was focused on the soldiers in front of them, his fingers were curled, his cadence was perfect and he was matching their marching and it was a great source of pride to him," he said. "How do you share that with people if you don’t get to walk alongside someone like that?"

Other NATO ceremonies Thursday and Friday brought together the nations that defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. Among the dignitaries attending were U.S. President Barack Obama, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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