‘Russia more active in Europe than during Cold War’ – top US & NATO officer
Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, who heads NATO's Allied Joint Force Command in Naples and commands US naval forces in Europe and Africa, claimed that the current Russian deployments are unheard-of.
"We're seeing activity that we didn't even see when it was the Soviet Union. It's precedential activity," Howard told Reuters.
Among alleged Russian naval activities are the deployment of its ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean, stepped-up patrols in the North Atlantic and Arctic region, increased submarine deployments, and submarine activities in the Black Sea.
"They’re a global navy, I understand that. But the activity in this theater has substantially moved up in the last couple of years," Howard said.
The top US officer also believes that the alleged activities mean a shift in focus for the alliance.
“When ... you think about what happens when they move forces around, you look at the alliance and they end up splitting and distracting the view of the alliance.”
The officer’s interview with Reuters came just days after the US fired nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at the Syria’s Shayrat airbase.
Howard’s comments also come amid the backdrop of a NATO buildup in Poland. Earlier this month, a US-led battle group of 1,350 soldiers for NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Eastern Europe arrived at its base near Orzysz, northeastern Poland.
The battle group is being deployed in Poland in accordance with the decision to place four multinational battalions in the Baltics, agreed on by NATO last summer. All in all, some 4,000 NATO troops with tanks, armored vehicles, air support, and high-tech intelligence centers are set to be deployed to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
In addition, at the end of March it was announced that British RAF fighters would be deployed to Romania in May.
Russia has repeatedly called the US and NATO activities dangerous and a provocation, and is also angered by the bloc’s naval activities. At the end of March, the deputy head of operations of the Russian General Staff, Viktor Poznikhir, said that US patrols in the Black and Baltic Seas could be a potential threat to Russian security, as there is no clear understanding of what kind of missiles are on the vessels carrying out the patrols.
He also said that the NATO buildup could lead to a surprise nuclear strike on Russia.
“The presence of American ABM [anti-ballistic missile] sites in Europe and ABM-capable ships in the seas and oceans close to Russia’s territory creates a powerful clandestine potential for delivering a surprise nuclear missile strike against Russia,” the military official said.
In mid-January, the NATO buildup was deemed one of the most significant threats to Russian security, according to the Foreign Ministry.
“We take these actions as another example of provocative military activities close to the Russian borders in the frameworks of infamous policy of Russian containment,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, speaking out on the latest military activities of the bloc in Eastern Europe.
“It is obvious the goal of these efforts as well as hasty deployment of heavy military assets in Europe is an attempt of the outgoing Obama’s administration to complicate as much as possible the bilateral relations,” she added.