The NATO commander-in-chief called Thursday for an escalated military build-up in Europe to deter Russia, as senators from both sides of the aisle the question of whether President Donald Trump would confront or to work together with President Vladimir Putin.
“His intention is to fracture NATO,” Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti said Putin. NATO has more troops, ships, planes and ammunition — including an aircraft carrier battle group — to shore up allies against Russia, he said, adding that he must also have a strong support from the State Department.
“I depend heavily on our relationships with the other organizations in our government,” Scaparrotti, who also serves as NATO’s commander and the head of the U. S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “That is the way we traditionally work.”
Trump’s budget outline, released last week, proposes a 28 percent cut to the State Department in part to pay for a $54 billion increase in military spending.
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Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and the SASC chairman, asked, “It would not help if we cut the spending for the State Department?” Scaparrotti replied, “No, sir.”
McCain, who has repeatedly called Putin a “thug and a murderer,” also renewed his charges that Putin is behind the harassment, jailing and murdering of dissidents.
He pointed to the reports from Moscow on Wednesday that Nikolai Gorokhov, the lawyer for the family of slain dissident and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, was severely injured when he was pushed or fell from his apartment building window. “This kind of things you can’t make it,” he said.
McCain later noted that in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, soviet dissident and former Russian mp Denis Voronenkov had shot on the street Thursday. “This heinous crime marks the continuation of a campaign of the KGB-style brutality, designed to intimidate anyone who dares to oppose the tyranny of Vladimir Putin,” he said.
Scaparrotti said: “We have to make, as well as the U.S., and as allies, together with a more aggressive confrontation of Russia, in particular, in this gray area,” where Russia makes use of hacking and “fake news” in attempts to influence Western elections.
Democrats on the panel with the question of whether Trump would ease sanctions on Russia in line with his campaign rhetoric, which he in his admiration for Putin. “I think we should maintain the sanctions,” Scaparrotti said.
“If we want to send the right signal to Russia,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, “a big piece of having a commander-in-chief, that is to say the right things to Russia.”
She told Scaparrotti, “Until we have a commander-in-chief who is willing to speak out against this criminal and his behavior, I don’t know that all the good work that you and your command can do is still going to move the needle enough.”
Scaparrotti echoed the other field commanders in support of the delivery of defensive weapons to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, armed drones, and electronic warfare capabilities to counter Russia’s drones.
Ukraine “is in a very tough battle” against Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass area in a three-year-old conflict that has killed 10,000, Scaparrotti said.
He also said that the Obama administration’s strategy of rebalancing forces to the Asia-Pacific region — the so-called “Pacific pivot” — had shortchanged the build-up of troops in Europe to deter Russia.
In his prepared remarks for the hearing, Scaparrotti said: “The strategic re-balance to Asia and the Pacific, combined with the budget restrictions in the Budget Control Act of 2011, have contributed to a significant attitude of reductions in our land and air domains.
“For example, between 2010 and 2013, two fighter squadrons and a two-star numbered air force headquarters were repressed, together with the associated critical factors and employees,” he said. “In addition, the last two heavy Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), a two-star division headquarters, and a three-star corps headquarters were removed from Europe, so there is only one Stryker and one airborne brigade.”
The US and its allies have since begun to rotate troops and armor to Poland and the Baltic states, but “without fully filled, heel-to-toe rotation forces, the ground force permanently assigned to EuCom is insufficient to meet the combatant command directed mission to deter Russia from further aggression,” Scaparrotti said.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.