Relations between Russia and the West are moving closer to conflict, a U.S. deputy defense secretary said Thursday.
“My reading is that the Russians have shifted from competition, which they think is the normal state of affairs, to confrontation,” Bob Work said at the Norwegian-American Defense Conference in Washington.
He described Russia’s foreign policy scale as moving “from union to partnership to competition to confrontation to conflict,” noting the Cold War as an example of “outright conflict.”
Up until 2012 he said, the U.S. had been reducing its forces in Europe as a sign Washington was willing to partner with Moscow.
“But because of their [Russia] activities we felt it very important that we reassure our allies in the north, in the east, in the central and in the south,” he said.
Work said the U.S. would have a full division stationed in Europe by the end of 2017 that will include components such as an airborne brigade, a strike and armed personnel carrier brigade and army brigade.
“It is just strengthening deterrence, not that we’re trying to be provocative. We are doing it in response to the Russian activities which we can all see,” he said. “We have to start to exercise our strategic muscles that we haven’t done since the Cold War.”
The Pentagon has allocated $3.4 billion for reassurance efforts in Europe for the 2017 fiscal year, nearly quadrupling the fund for military activities on the continent.
Work claimed that the U.S. is trying to deter Russia in a balanced way rather than provoking a conflict between the two powers.
“We do not want to return to the nightmare of the Cold War nuclear horror,” he added.
He also commented on his visit last week to Romania to inaugurate a ballistic missile defense system there and break ground on a similar site in Poland that raised specific concerns about Moscow’s response to systems.
“The threats that were made against Romania and our Polish allies were just unbelievable. This is a sign of confrontation,” Work said.
Russia is opposed to the missile defense systems, arguing that medium-range missiles could be redirected against Russia’s strategic deterrent.
Prior to the inauguration of the new systems, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Moscow reserves the right to respond with adequate military-technical measures to the NATO missile defense shield.
“The location of these two sites is either too close or too far away from Russian strategic missiles to pose any credible threat against them,” Work said. “It absolutely does not pose a threat to Russian strategic deterrents.”