WASHINGTON, April 11, 2014 - A senior Defense Department official has told Congress Russia's annexation of Crimea will affect and perhaps even reshape the NATO alliance.
Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs made the comments during testimony this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"Given the Russian Federation's illegal actions in Crimea, our focus has shifted to the immediate question of how this crisis will reshape the transatlantic alliance, the upcoming summit and, more broadly speaking, NATO as a whole," he said.
He recalled that after Russia's invasion, United States took prompt steps to provide reassurance to NATO allies and partners in Central and Eastern Europe.
"We augmented NATO's peacetime Baltic air policing mission by deploying six additional F-15s," he said, adding, "We deployed 12 F-16s and approximately 200 support personnel to Lask, Poland, to supplement the U.S.- Poland Aviation Detachment training rotation."
Chollet also noted the extension of the USS TRUXTUN's stay in the Black Sea through March 21 to conduct exercises with Romanian and Bulgarian naval forces, as well as plans to launch the USS DONALD COOK from its new homeport in Rota, Spain, to the Black Sea to further build interoperability with allies and partners in the region.
"The United States wants to ensure a continuous, augmented presence along NATO's borders at least through the end of the year that draws on the different capabilities of NATO in the air, on the ground, and at sea to reassure our allies and demonstrate our commitment to European security," Chollet said.
Chollet also noted the U.S. is taking action to reassure the Ukrainian government by conducting an Open Skies observation mission over Ukrainian territory.
Senior defense officials recently traveled to Kiev for talks with their Ukrainian counterparts. "Although part of the discussions addressed Crimea and the buildup of Russian forces at the border, the majority of the discussion was spent on mid- and long-term bilateral defense cooperation."
Russia's actions, he said, have also increased the direct threat to other non-allied partners in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, particularly Moldova and Georgia.
"The administration is already exploring ways to support these important partners," he said. "The U.S. government has tools at its disposal to contribute to this support effort, including security assistance resources, senior leader engagement, and defense cooperation activities."
Overall, Chollet maintained that Russia's actions in Ukraine challenge the idea of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
"It changes Europe's security landscape, and in doing so reinforces the importance of our bilateral defense relationships with European partners and within NATO."
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