In the face of sustained Russian incursions into Ukraine and the dozens of fighter and bomber flights that have skirted European airspace in recent weeks, the head of US European Command has come to the Pentagon to ask for more troops and equipment.
“Because of the increased pressure that we feel in Eastern Europe now, and because of the assurance measures that we are taking in the Baltics, in Poland and in Romania, we require additional rotational presence,” Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander Europe, said at a Pentagon briefing Monday morning.
“What we are doing is working with the Army and other services to use their regionally aligned forces to get them forward, to get their experience forward, to bring that capability to interact with our partners and allies.”
About 600 soldiers from the US Army’s 1st brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, deployed to Poland and the Baltic states in October in an attempt to flex some muscle along with allies who have grown increasingly nervous about Russian military activity in Ukraine.
The soldiers — who are equipped with M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles — replaced paratroopers from the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade who had been in the region since the spring to conduct exercises with Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
European allies have grown restless over the increasing number of Russian military flights skirting their airspace in recent months, including an unprecedented 19 Russian military flyovers in one day last week. Breedlove said the increasing activity means that Russia is “messaging us that they are a great power and that they have the ability to exert these kinds of influences in our thinking.”
Breedlove warned that the NATO alliance is entering a “strategic inflection point” with Moscow, and that the seven Russian brigades along Ukraine’s eastern border have all but erased the border in many places.
“The Ukraine-Russia border is wide open in these places,” he said. “Russian equipment, resupply, training flows back and forth freely,” including about 300 Russian advisers working with Ukrainian separatists.