Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top commander, gave some advice in a Sunday interview before he steps down later in May: It’s time to focus intelligence assets on Russia.
Breedlove spoke with The Wall Street Journal Sunday to warn about Russia’s increasing military strength. He urged the U.S. to place more intelligence analysts on the Moscow beat and to further add technical intelligence assets in its arsenal, namely spy satellites.
“We see that Russia has not accepted the hand of partnership but has chosen a path of belligerence,” Breedlove said. “We need to readdress where we’re heading.”
“We weren’t focused on Russia when I came in three years ago because we were still trying to cast a paradigm that brought Russia into the fold of Western values,” he added. “Russia chose a different path or they were on that path and we didn’t recognize it.”
Breedlove originally thought Russia might be a partner, but those hopes were quickly dashed, first in 2008 with the invasion of Georgia, and again with the annexation of Crimea in early 2014 — which utterly shocked the international community and caused many to re-look at old intelligence assessments.
Intelligence officials have been widely criticized for failing to properly warn the Pentagon of the threat Russia posed to Ukraine, but those same officials have struck back, saying they did in fact warn about Putin’s aims on Crimea. Several years ago, most intelligence resources were focused on Iraq and Afghanistan to combat terrorism.
Robert Work, deputy secretary of defense, said Friday that policy experts also failed to see Russia’s new turn.
“It caught the entire policy community by surprise. It is clear Russia has embarked on a much more provocative and aggressive path since 2012. We are now in process to responding,” Work said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Russia, in contrast, thinks both the U.S. and NATO count as aggressors for continuing to push eastward right up to the country’s borders. Russia considers NATO the aggressor, and NATO considers Russia the aggressor. Neither side appears as though it’s ready to capitulate to the other’s interpretation of the tension.
One of the most recent incidents of conflicting perspectives at play was the Russian air force buzzing the USS Donald Cook, which was conducting exercises in the Baltics. For Russia, this is nothing more than warning the U.S. not conduct military exercises so close to its sovereign territory. From the U.S. perspective, sending the USS Donald Cook into the region is a way to reassure allies, particularly Poland, against Russian meddling.
Navy Adm. John M. Richardson said Monday at the Pentagon he hopes Russia will cut out the practice of buzzing ships. The latest incident in April came awfully close to meriting a response.
“My hope is that we can stop this sort of activity,” Richardson said.
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