The commander of NATO forces in Europe, U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, has said that Russia continues to be the "primary threat" to Euro-Atlantic security and voiced concern about Moscow's military modernization program.
Speaking on March 13 at a hearing in the House of Representatives, Scaparrotti also said Russia seeks to undermine any steps toward Euro-Atlantic integration in the Balkans using disinformation and backing extremist forces throughout the region.
"Russia has continued its reemergence as strategic competitor and remains the primary threat to a stable Euro-Atlantic security environment," Scaparrotti told the House Committee on Armed Services.
"While the United States maintains global military superiority over Russia, evolving Russian capabilities threaten or erode our competitive military advantage, challenge our ability to operate uncontested in all domains, and diminish our ability to deter Russian aggression."
Scaparrotti also said that, in the face of Moscow's drive to upgrade its armed forces, U.S. military dominance could only be maintained if America keeps investing in defense.
"I am very concerned about their [military] modernization program. It's real and it's a good modernization program that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] has been able to keep on track by-and-large. And so while today -- as I noted in my opening [remarks] -- we have a dominant force, in the years ahead we won't unless we continue to invest as well," he said.
The U.S. general voiced concern about Russia making inroads in the Balkans, a region where the United States has "invested heavily and is critical to the security of Europe."
"Generally speaking, their efforts are to undermine any movement toward integration with the Euro-Atlantic [structures] -- EU, NATO, etc. That's their general objective in every case throughout the Balkans," Scaparrotti told the committee.
"Primarily they do this through disinformation, they do it through funding and support for fringe parties -- they don't necessarily determine whichever side it might be on as long as it's undermining the present government in any forward movement within those governments. We see that and, as I said, that has stepped up in the past six or eight months within the Balkans."
The NATO commander voiced concern about Russia's potential attempts to undermine North Macedonia's efforts to join the alliance.
The Balkan country last year signed a landmark agreement with neighboring Greece that changed its name from Macedonia to North Macedonia, ending a 27-year naming dispute. The agreement has opened North Macedonia’s path to likely NATO and EU membership, which Greece had previously blocked.
"I would also say that Montenegro's accession to NATO -- now the 29th member -- and North Macedonia, who would potentially be the 30th [member], I believe is exactly what Russia did not want to see. I think they'll continue to try and address this with North Macedonia just as they tried to interfere in Montenegro's accession [to NATO]."
Authorities in Montenegro, which joined the alliance in June, have accused two Russian officers with the GRU military intelligence of organizing a failed coup plot to prevent the small Balkan nation from joining NATO.
Moscow, which opposed Montenegro’s bid to join the military alliance, has denied the allegations.