As American officials fire off diplomatic salvos at Russia in response to that nation’s purported actual artillery salvos into Ukraine, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said recently that among other actions, the U.S. military is dusting off decades-old plans, just in case.
“We’re looking inside our own readiness models to look at things that we haven’t had to look at for 20 years, frankly, about basing and lines of communication and sea lanes,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, America’s top military officer, said at the Aspen Security Forum Thursday evening. “What the military does when faced with these crises is – our job is preparedness, deterrence and readiness.”
In addition to its own plans, Dempsey said the U.S. military is having “conversations with our NATO allies about increasing their capability and readiness” and that there’s a “very active” ongoing process and debate about how best to provide support to Ukraine.
“I wouldn't misinterpret my presence here today sitting with you… We’re not sitting still,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey said Russia’s actions in Ukraine signaled a significant “change in the relationship of the U.S. and Russia,” but said America’s first instinctual response to Russian aggression should be to look at NATO and the role it played against the Soviets a half century ago.
“That’s why NATO was created… to increase stability, offset Soviet aggression at the time, but maintain a stable Europe. And we’ve been successful at that for 60 years,” Dempsey said. “So the first step here is to have that conversation in the halls of NATO while recognizing the change and taking stock in ourselves – in our capabilities, in our readiness, in our deterrent capabilities.”
Dempsey’s comments came just hours after U.S. officials accused Russia of firing artillery rounds into eastern Ukraine from Russian territory, a move a Pentagon official called a “clear escalation” of the conflict and Russia’s alleged hand in it.
Beyond Russia’s intentions in Ukraine, Dempsey said he also feared that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be in danger of “light[ing] a fire that he loses control of” by stoking a potentially “quite dangerous” strain of nationalism in Europe.
Last week a Malaysian Airlines plane crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing nearly 300 travelers. Shortly after, the Ukrainian government produced a bevy of evidence suggesting pro-Russian rebels had downed the plane with a sophisticated surface-to-air missile that Ukraine claims was provided by Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin in turn blamed the Ukrainian government and the west for escalating the conflict and pledged that Russia would do “everything it its power” to facilitate an investigation into the Malaysia Airlines tragedy.
Prior to the plane crash, the Ukrainian government and American officials accused Moscow of secretly sending commandos into eastern Ukraine to foment instability. For instance, one of the rebel’s military leaders, Ukraine says, is actually a former Russian intelligence agent from Moscow.
“They are soldiers of fortune, Rambo types who have fought in Russian wars,” former White House counter-terrorism advisor and current ABC News consultant Richard Clarke said last week. “They are people in close contact with the Russian security services, people who have apartments and homes in Moscow, and people who are probably being paid by Russian security services to be the military heart and core of the rebels… These are the dogs of war.”
Putin has denied Russian military troops are active in Ukraine, but said back in March that Russia reserves the right to use military force to protect Russians there.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.