NATO's deployment of additional resources to the Baltic region despite Russia's opposition was a "necessary step" based on Moscow's "aggressive actions," the Western military alliance's supreme commander says.
U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, speaking to RFE/RL on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on July 12, said that "four battalions is not a threat to Russia," referring to the additional forces stationed on the alliance's eastern flank and in Poland in recent months.
"But what four battalions is, is an actual deterrent to any aggression by Russia with respect to the boundaries of the NATO alliance," Scaparrotti added.
"Those four battalions are connected to all of our air domain, our sea, our cyber [capabilities], they are connected to our headquarters from tactical to strategic.
"So they represent NATO at large as a guarantee of the security of the boundaries of the Euro-Atlantic [region] as NATO sees it," he added.
Asked if he sees Russia as a threat or a potential friend for NATO and the United States, Scaparrotti said that "we want them to be a productive member of Europe, but they have to honor and work within the international world and within the rules that have been established."
"It's Russia's malign activity that concerns me," he said. "You know, they violated boundaries. They've reset territory for the first time since World War II by aggression.
"They occupy countries without their permission. They are somewhat aggressive in our military domain at times. That's the activity I would like to change," he added.
As to Russia's activities in Ukraine, the general reiterated that NATO did "not accept the occupation of Crimea, actually, Ukraine, nor their presence in eastern Ukraine today."
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and has supported separatists in eastern Ukraine fighting against Kyiv government forces in a bloody war that has killed more than 10,300 people, actions that led the United States and European Union to impose sanctions on Moscow.
Scaparrotti said the planned July 16 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was part of a "two-track approach" of strong defense and deterrence mixed with "communication."
"I welcome it, and it's President Trump's design, but I think communication is actually a good part of that," he said, noting that he himself had kept in contact with his Russian counterparts.
In April, Scaparrotti met with General Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia's military General Staff, in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, as part of efforts to ease tensions.
"We've established [communications] more than on one occasion now. I think it is good to ensure that we don't have a miscalculation, if something were to happen, we can quickly talk to each other," the U.S. general said.
Scaparrotti said the situation surrounding the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan "is going better," noting the recent 18-day cease-fire called by Kabul in its battle with Taliban forces looking to overthrow the Western-backed government.
"There's a real desire there at a lower level [among Taliban militants] to have peace," he said.
He added that NATO leaders at the Brussels summit on July 12 had agreed to extend financing for the effort in Afghanistan through 2024.
"The messages is: We are there until we have the conditions that we need in Afghanistan. And the Taliban don't have a military solution to this. They need to come to the table [to negotiate]," he said.