Skip to main content

World U.S. commander: Another Russian offensive possible in Ukraine after lull

U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of the U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 30, 2015.

JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

The top U.S. commander for NATO said Thursday that America needs better intelligence on the ground in Ukraine, but that it appears Russian forces have used a recent lull in fighting to reposition for another offensive.

Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of NATO forces in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the situation in Ukraine is volatile and fragile and urged Congress to bolster U.S. intelligence capabilities to better understand President Vladimir Putin's intent in the region.

"Russian military operations over the past year in Ukraine, and the region more broadly, have underscored that there are critical gaps in our collection and analysis," Breedlove said. "Some Russian military exercises have caught us by surprise and our textured feel for Russian involvement on the ground in Ukraine has been quite limited."

Story continues below advertisement

He said the number of Russia intelligence experts has dwindled since the Cold War and intelligence assets of all kind have been shifted to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We cannot be fully certain what Russia will do next and we cannot fully grasp Putin's intent. What we can do is learn from his actions," Breedlove said. "What we do see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent."

"Russian forces used the opportunities presented by the recent lull in fighting to reset and reposition while protecting their gains," he said. "Many of their actions are consistent with preparations for another offensive."

The United States now sees the Ukrainian rebels as a Russian force.

American officials briefed on intelligence from the region say Russia has significantly deepened its command and control of the militants in eastern Ukraine in recent months, leading the U.S. to quietly introduce a new term: "combined Russian-separatist forces." The State Department used the expression three times in a single statement last week, lambasting Moscow and the insurgents for a series of cease-fire violations in Ukraine.

The shift in U.S. perceptions could have wide-ranging ramifications, even if the Obama administration has cited close linkages between the pro-Russian separatists and Putin's government in Moscow since violence flared up in Ukraine a year ago.

By describing them as an integrated force in the east of the country, the U.S. is putting greater responsibility on Russia for the continued fighting. That will make it harder for Russia to persuade the U.S. and Europe to scale back sanctions that are hurting its economy, and for Washington and Moscow to partner on unrelated matters from nuclear nonproliferation to counterterrorism.

Story continues below advertisement

U.S. intelligence agencies signed off on the new language last week, after what officials outlined as increasing evidence of the Russians and separatists working together, training together and operating under a joint command structure that ultimately answers to Russia. The officials weren't authorized to be quoted by name and demanded anonymity.

Some of that evidence was presented in a statement released by State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf on April 22 after Secretary of State John Kerry raised his concerns by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Harf spoke of Russia's deployment of air defence systems closer to the front lines, increased troop levels near Kharkov, Ukraine's second largest city, and intensified training sessions involving the use of Russian drones. She called the unmanned aerial vehicles "an unmistakable sign of Russia's presence."

The uprising began after protesters chased Ukraine's pro-Russia president out of power and Moscow responded by annexing the Ukrainian region of Crimea. The insurgency started with miners, farmers and others without military training rebelling against the new government, and quickly expanded. More than 6,000 people have died and a million have been displaced by the conflict.

Russia's air defence concentration in eastern Ukraine is now at its highest level since August, the U.S. says. Russia has more ground forces at the border than at any point since October. These developments and others have American officials fearful that Moscow and the separatists may be planning an offensive in the coming weeks.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter