Top NATO commander cuts short U.S. visit, eyes on Russian troops

WASHINGTON Sun Mar 30, 2014 1:37pm EDT

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks during a retirement ceremony at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland March 28, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks during a retirement ceremony at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland March 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan Smialowski/Pool

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has sent America's top general in Europe back early from a trip to Washington in what a spokesman on Sunday called a prudent step given Russia's "lack of transparency" about troop movements across the border with Ukraine.

General Philip Breedlove, who is both NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the head of the U.S. military's European Command, had been due to testify before Congress this week. Instead, he arrived in Europe Saturday evening and will be consulting with allies.

"(Hagel) considered Breedlove's early return the prudent thing to do, given the lack of transparency and intent from Russian leadership about their military movements across the border," Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters, which was first to report the decision.

"More broadly, he felt it was important for Gen. Breedlove to continue our efforts to consult with NATO allies, and to discuss specific ways to provide additional reassurance for our NATO allies in Eastern Europe."

U.S. officials, speaking last week on condition of anonymity, expressed deep concern about the massing of what they estimate are up to 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's border. That is stoking concerns in Washington and elsewhere that Russia is preparing a wider incursion into Ukraine after its annexation of Crimea.

The United States and EU have meted out two rounds of sanctions on Russia, including visa bans and asset freezes for some of Putin's inner circle, to punish Moscow, and they have threatened further actions.

The U.S. military has also taken steps to reassure NATO allies, increasing the number of U.S. aircraft in regular NATO air patrols over the Baltics and beefing up a previously planned training exercise with the Polish air force. More steps are being considered.

Breedlove will meet with NATO foreign ministers at their April 1-2 conference in Brussels.

"The general's return will allow him more time to confer closely with his staff and our allies and partners, and to better advise senior leaders," Kirby said.

Hagel made the decision to send Breedlove back to Europe on Friday night, he said.

Breedlove arrived in Stuttgart on Saturday evening. He had been scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee April 1 and the House Armed Services Committee on April 2.

"Congressional leaders were notified of Hagel's decision," Kirby said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Jim Loney)

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Comments (5)
OneOfTheSheep wrote:
Window dressing for EU allies that pay little, if anything, to hide under Washington’s wing. Empty gesture, as General Breedlove knows all too well. Socialist Europe will get such “security” as they have paid for (and deserve).

If Putin sends those Russian troops into Ukraine the U.S. will do nothing but issue empty threats. After all, he’s “been there, done that already.

Mar 30, 2014 7:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Short of flying in massive NATO troops to Ukrainian soil as a direct counter to the forces Putin has carefully kept on Russias side of the border,One must wonder at what the west can do to stop the possible expansion of Russias teritorial intentions, and as most sane folk know, that would be a flashpoint for a direct NATO/Russian confontation.
Sanctions against those perceived to be behind Putin, and those the west feels responsible for Crimeas annexation havent gone far enough, only when Putin himself cannot leave Russian territory, NO capital invested in the west is accessible to him, or those who have done so, will a change of direction come.
Sanctions will hurt the west too, but sometimes the limb must be lopped to save the body, no more Russian Coal,Oil,Gas,raw materials, Vodka,Caviar,Diamonds, or Aeroflot flights into the western world, perhaps its tme for a `curtain` of our own to be imposed upon Russia, and those states which are ex Warsaw pact and still retain ties to Moscow,
But what will the decadent rich of the west do without their caviar,Vodka,Diamonds and heat scources do then,poor things?
MS.

Mar 31, 2014 4:54am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Calfri wrote:
Obama has been pretty passive. He appears out of his depth. Still, a Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine will garner harsher sanctions. But why not do harsher sanctions now? There’s speculation he could bolt for Moldova, as well. What would the West do? More sanctions, surely, but why not head the invasion off if possible by doing hardcore sanctions now? Let Putin understand that the U.S. is willing to do a measure of economic damage to itself in order to secure the peace? Woodward says the CIA is giving guns to the Ukranians. Let’s hope so. Let’s hope they are giving them anti-tank weapons, too. But why not announce it?

Mar 31, 2014 10:15am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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