WASHINGTON -- The incoming head of U.S. military forces in Europe said he supports a permanent brigade-sized presence of U.S. combat troops in Eastern Europe to deter Russia’s expanded and assertive actions.
U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti also told a Senate hearing on April 21 that he supported putting U.S. aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea to send a “strategic message” to Russia and Iran.
The comments by Scaparrotti, who is expected to be confirmed as head of U.S. European Command in the coming weeks, reflect the growing push in Washington and some European capitals for a greater military presence, particularly among NATO members who have felt threatened by Russia’s actions.
In the wake of Russia’s forcible annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and Russia’s campaign in Syria, the United States and NATO have struggled to recalibrate their response to Moscow’s saber-rattling.
The U.S. administration earlier this year announced it would quadruple defense-related spending in Europe and would bring the number of combat brigades rotating into Eastern Europe to three. A brigade typically has between 4,200 and 4,700 troops.
But NATO allies like Poland, or the ex-Soviet Baltic states, have called for a more permanent presence of troops to deter Russia.
“I personally believe that a permanently stationed armored brigade in Europe would be best,” Scaparrotti told senators.
It "gives you a little more substance, a little more strength in relationship building,” he said.
The buzzing of a U.S. warship in the Baltic Sea by Russian fighter jets, and the close encounter by a Russian jet with a U.S. reconnaissance plane in recent days have also spooked U.S. policy makers and prompted calls from lawmakers for the administration to do more.
Scaparrotti, whose command will also make him NATO’s lead military officer, called the flyby that occurred April 12 “absolutely reckless and unjustified.”
“I think [the Russians] are pushing the envelope in terms of our resolve, pushing the envelope in terms of international law,” he said. "From a military perspective, we should sail and fly wherever we are allowed to by international law, and we should be strong, clear, and consistent in our message in that regard."
Scaparrotti also suggested he would support sending more sophisticated weaponry to bolster Ukraine and its government forces in their fight against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Washington has provided counterartillery radar, night-vision goggles, and other equipment, but has repeatedly declined Ukraine’s request for “offensive weaponry.”
Scaparrotti said he supported sending Ukraine antitank missiles like the Javelin.
In June, the U.S. and NATO forces are scheduled to hold one of the largest war games in years in Poland, featuring around 25,000 troops in exercises that are likely to anger Russia.
CORRECTION: This article has been amended to remove a reference to the U.S. supplying Ukraine with mortars.