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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: May 5, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
New NATO Commander Scaparrotti Warns of Threat from 'Resurgent Russia'; Kremlin Scorns 'Loud, Political' Statement
4 years
Aleksandr Rubtsov, NSN Editor, Radio Host Found Murdered in Home; Colleagues Say 'Not Related' to Work
Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti assumed command of NATO's Allied Command Operations  today May 4, taking over from Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove in a ceremony today at NATO headquarters. The speech was covered by the Pentagon:

NATO is facing a "resurgent Russia striving to project itself as a world power," Scaparrotti said. Other concerns for the alliance are terrorism, as well as a refugee crisis "being driven by instability in North Africa and the Middle East," he said.

"To address these challenges, we must continue to maintain and enhance our levels of readiness and our agility in the spirit of being able to fight tonight if deterrence fails," he said.

[NATO Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg said NATO has entered a "new era of uncertainty," with serious and enduring challenges on its eastern and southern flanks. "NATO is ready and up to the challenge," the secretary general added.

NATO's web site itself did not focus on Scaparrotti's frank statement about Russia, but ran this quote about "hybrid threats" commonly associated with Russia:

"Today’s challenges have evolved and significantly differ from those of the past,” he said.  "Our alliance will need to counter hybrid threats, which can act with little or no warning, and also manifest themselves here ‘at home.”

Outgoing commander Philip Breedlove was himself candid about the Russian threat. In an op-ed in the Washington Post where he took on critics of the rationale for NATO, he said:

Finally, if the naysayers still are not convinced of the criticality of this alliance, just look at the headlines. There is an arc of instability and aggression threatening our interests and our allies stretching from the Arctic, through Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and across North Africa. Only the most diehard isolationist could claim that this is not a direct threat to the United States and our interests. Our allies are on the front lines challenging Russian aggression, ungoverned and undergoverned spaces, and the world’s largest migrant crisis since WWII. Russia’s revanchist ambitions and illegal annexation of Crimea have led to the first attempt to change internationally recognized borders by force in Europe since the end of that conflict. Our allies are reacting and engaging. They have been essential in maintaining effective sanctions against the Russians and in ramping up exercises and assurance measures.

Breedlove also gave a long interview to the Wall Street Journal, where the state media news service RIA focused on his comment that Russia's fighting capacity  has grown since 2008 and Kommersant selected his characterization of Putin as "a voice of common-sense"

Overall, during his tenure Breedlove was known for raising the alarm about Russia's growing threat since launching war on Ukraine, and for calling out the fact of Russian tanks and troops in Ukraine.

Novaya Gazeta ran a headline about Scaparrotti's speech saying "New NATO Commander in Europe Calls for Preparation for Fight with Russia," linking to the Pentagon coverage of his speech:

"To address these challenges, we must continue to maintain and enhance our levels of readiness and our agility in the spirit of being able to fight tonight if deterrence fails," he said.

But the translation came out as follows with a certain added emphasis:

"to be in a state to enter battle even today if deterrence suffers failure."

NATO began major exercises in Estonia's annual "Spring Storm" on May 2 with 6,000 soldiers from 10 countries.

Aleksei Meshkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister reacted critically to Gen. Scaparrotti's statements, Novaya Gazeta reported citing RIA Novosti.

First you should investigate, then make loud statements. It is not the job of NATO military to make political statements.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that a "resurgent Russia" is not a threat to anyone and Russia was prepared for "mutually-profitable cooperation taking into account the interests of all partners," RIA reported.

Earlier, RIA quoted military expert Konstantin Sokolov who said about the NATO appointment, "If a Russophobe is needed, there will be a Russophobe" and complained about NATO "approaching Russia's borders" and "building up its potential."

This a common objection that overlooks Russia's own aggressive behavior that led East Europeans to seek NATO membership in the first place and its continued provocations against its Baltic and Scandinavian neighbors, not to mention Russia's launch of the war against Ukraine and continued support of militants there, and its backing of Balshir al-Assad and escalation of the war in Syria.

Nevertheless Sokolov accused NATO instead of planning "some aggressive action," not only from the Baltics or Ukraine but Afghanistan. He added that the West was using "modern technology" to fight wars, noting that the Soviet Union "was destroyed without tanks and airplanes, and many things were achieved by the symbolic use of military forces" such as "Orange revolutions, the creation of extremist organizations and home-made armed forces."

In a remark that sounds a lot like what Russia does in southeastern Ukraine, Sokolov accused the West of using such armed proxies to sow chaos, attract people under slogans and get them to fight.

"No one notices who is behind them. That is the technology of modern war," he commented.

The Kremlin's complaints about NATO's aggression follow a long pattern established by decades of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union would invade Hungary or then-Czechoslovakia or Afghanistan, support martial law in Poland or later Alyaksandr Lukashenka's dictatorship in Belarus, take de facto control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, then annex the Crimea and support commandos taking over administrative buildings in the Donbass, but all the while complain that it was the West increasing its arsenals and behaving aggressively and threatening Russia, the largest country in the world. 

In this scenario, various "color" revolutions from the Orange Revolution in Ukraine or the Rose Revolution in Georgia or the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, all related to rebellions against regimes maintained in power by Russia in Russia's interests are seen as fomented and funded by the West, although the West's role in these indigenous movements is minor if not irrelevant.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick