June 6, 2016
Courtesy of The Baltic Times

Central and Eastern Europe need real, not symbolic capacities to deter Russia, United States Army Europe Commander Lieutenant General Ben Hodges has said in Vilnius.

“I won’t speculate on what the decisions might be about enhanced foreign presence but what I will say is — the advice I’ve given and what I think is required to achieve is actual deterrence. Not symbolic, but actual deterrence,” Hodges said at a conference Sustaining NATO’s Strength and Deterrence in the Lithuanian capital on Monday.

The US general spoke ahead of the meetings of NATO defense ministers and the Alliance’s summit, which may result in decisions to step up the Allied military capacities in Central and Eastern Europe, including the Baltic States.

“Deterrence requires real capability, the real war-fighting organisations that could cause any potential adversary to say ‘we might fail’ or ‘don’t wanna do it because the cost would be too high,'” said Hodges.

“That means homogenous organisations, with all the enablers, joint capabilities,” he added.

The general said Russia was needed in the international community; however, this was impossible at the moment due to the country’s “sole respect for power.”

He emphasised that about 7,000 Russian troops were stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two territories viewed by the international community as Georgian regions occupied by Russia.

In Hodges’ words, about 20,000 Russian troops are currently present in the Crimea peninsula occupied by Russia, and about 20 Ukrainian soldiers were last week killed during clashes with Moscow-supported separatists in Eastern Ukraine regardless of ceasefire agreements.

“This is a serious challenge; this is not an academic exercise and the only way we keep it from becoming a real crisis is if we stick together, the Alliance stick together and demonstrate that we are committed,” the US general noted.

He added that Lithuania had been precisely meeting the commitments assumed during the last NATO Summit in Wales by not only boosting defense spending but also by organising exercises and developing its Armed Forces.

Ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw, the three Baltic States seek deployment of an international Allied battalion of about 1,000 soldiers in each of their territories. NATO’s Military Committee has given a green light to stationing of the units in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland.

The Alliance has also confirmed plans to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe in response to the Russian actions.

After Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula, the NATO air-policing mission to guard the Baltic skies was stepped up in 2014, in addition to a higher number of military exercises in the region and opening of small NATO staffs in every Baltic State.

The United States sends rotational company of troops to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland. Following the Russian actions in Ukraine, other Allies have also increased the frequency of sending forces to joint exercises, however, not on a regular basis.