The United States needs more firepower and focus to push back against ever-increasing Russian aggression across Europe and beyond, according to the top U.S. commander in Europe.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, European Command’s Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti called Russia the primary threat to stability in Europe and recommended the U.S. boost the number of troops it deploys to the continent on both a permanent and rotational basis.
Scaparrotti said he was particularly concerned about insufficient intelligence and surveillance capabilities, as well as a shrinking advantage on the high seas.
“I’ve asked for two more [naval] destroyers,” Scaparrotti told lawmakers, saying the need for additional ships was critical “if we want to remain dominant in the maritime domain.”
“We do need greater capacity, particularly given the modernization and the growth of the Russian fleets in Europe,” he said, noting growing concern about the presence of Russian submarines in European and international waters.
Countering Russian Influence
Scaparrotti, who also serves as the supreme allied commander for NATO, is not the first high ranking U.S. military official to raise concerns about what many in the U.S. see as Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture.
Last month, a report by the U.S. military’s Defense Intelligence Agency warned of the threat posed by Russia’s action is space, while the commander of U.S. forces in Africa cautioned Moscow was playing on perceived U.S. weakness to gain influence there.
In his prepared testimony Tuesday, Scaparrotti said Europe, however, was still the lynchpin to Moscow’s overall approach.
“Moscow seeks to assert its influence over nations along its periphery, undermine NATO solidarity, and fracture the rules-based international order,” he wrote, adding from there, Russia is looking to “increase its influence and expand its presence in Afghanistan, Syria, and Asia.”
Scaparrotti told lawmakers that the U.S. military has been working closely with European allies, including Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic nations to develop the right capabilities to counter Russian aggression.
US support for Ukraine
He also said strong consideration is being given to find more ways to support Ukraine.
Since 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, the U.S. has given Kyiv more than $1 billion worth of military assistance, though the vast majority of it has been non-lethal.
To date, the lone exception has been shipments of javelin missiles which started last April (2018), following authorizations by U.S. President Donald Trump and Congress.
Scaparrotti said the additional lethal aid could include sniper systems, ammunition and even naval warfare systems, citing Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels last November, as part of an effort to block off Ukrainian access to the Kerch Strait.
Disinformation, cyberattacks and arms race
But like top U.S. intelligence officials, the commander of U.S. forces in Europe cautioned that while Russia is strengthening its military might, the biggest threat comes from the Kremlin’s devotion to information warfare. And he raised concerns Washington’s response in that arena is lacking.
“We need to probably get greater focus and energy into a strategy, a multifaceted strategy to counter Russia,” Scaparrotti said, “specifically within information operations, challenging their disinformation in cyber.”
U.S. lawmakers Tuesday also raised concerns about a possible nuclear arms race with Russia, with both President trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing last month they are withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The U.S. and its European allies accuse Moscow of violating the terms of the treaty, which prohibited ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, since at least 2014.
“We simply cannot tolerate this kind of abuse of arms control and expect for arms control to continue to be viable,” a senior U.S. administration official said at the time. “Let’s be clear: If there’s an arms race, it is Russia that is starting it.”
Pressed on how the U.S. would proceed in a post-treaty environment, Scaparrotti said planning was underway.
“I don’t know that we have a plan today,” he said. “We’re still in a 6-month period here where we are looking at what our options are.”