US-General: "Putin doesn't want to fight against NATO"

Ben Hodges, Commander-in-chief of the US Army in Europe believes the conflict with Moscow will continue for a couple of years

Russias President Vladimir Putin wants to split the european NATO states and the USA, Ben Hodges Commander-in-chief of the US Army in Europe believes. So the west has to be more watchful about the current events, in example how Moscow invests in german and italian media. He thinks that the the Kremlins latest heavy complaints about NATO plans to deploy troops in eastern europe with heavy weaponry is a purposed overreaction. More important than discussing weapon deliveries is that the NATO allys have a common strategy.

Q: The plans to send NATO equpiment to several states in the east brought heavy reactions from Moscow. What is your assessment?

Hodges: It is an overreaction. Keep the numbers in mind: about 250 tanks, armed vehicles and self propelled artillery will be distributed to seven countries. All of them would fit on the Hofburg (Vienna).

Q: Did you notice besides the political also a military reaction from russia?

Hodges: Politically they were noisy but i don't know if they will do something because of that. Russias overreaction is baseless. Specially if you think of Moscows own unannounced exercises where 30.000 soldiers, hundreds of tanks and dozens of aircrafts appeared near NATO borders.

Q: Could russia attack a NATO ally for real?

Hodges: I do not hope so. Also, i do not know anybody that predicted they would attack Crimea. My responsibility as a Commander-in-chief is that the troops are ready for any thinkable case. I am sure, president Putin does not want a fight against NATO. I am also sure, he wants to see NATO split up. He wants to divide europe and america.

Q: What do you see as a sign for that?

Hodges: The amount of money russia is investing into europes media outlets. Russia Today spends huge sums to germany and italy. That is hybrid warfare: there will be no long russian tank convoy assaulting a country. It is about keeping the temperature barely at a 100 degrees. To twist the law, spread false information and nurture doubts.

Q: Is there action to avoid that the boiling temperature will be reached one day?

Hodges: I believe it is important to learn how democratic states could keep the pace of information spreading. The russians don't have the burden to be truthful. Every statesman in the west has to reckon that there's media and parliament which could disagree with you. I believe information is the best way to withstand the hybrid warfare.

Q: How many soldiers and heavy weapons does russia still have in the eastern ukraine?

Hodges: I can't tell you the exact number - it would change anyways in hours. What is undoubtedly is the weapons they have over there: antiaircraft systems, rocket systems, systems of electronical warfare.

Q: What is your impression of the mission the OSCE fulfills in the eastern ukraine?

Hodges: The members of that mission take great risks. They were not allowed to see everything on the russian side. That is a good example for a security structure which is willing to do its work. And how russia tries to change the existing order. They are part of the OSCE but on the other hand insist to not let them do their work.

Q: Which point has the US training campaign for ukraine soldiers reached - how does the practice look like?

Hodges: Round about 300 US soldiers are at Jaworiw. We train three battalions of the ukrainian interior ministry. The first just finished, now the ones will follow.

Q: For weeks there's a political debate about US weapon deliveries to Kiev. Which weapons could achieve something for the ukrainian army in military means?

Hodges: I think, the debate about weapons misses the most important item here. In particular: what shall be the outcome of the conflict, what is the strategy?

Q: Vladimir Putin recently stated at an arms fair to order 40 new nuclear weapons. What is that telling you? What is the appropriate NATO answer to this?

Hodges: What has the west done that Putin thinks he does need 40 more nuclear weapons? Nothing. The russian ambassador in denmark threatened them to be a target for nuclear weapons. Denmark! The vice premier Dmitri Rogosin means tanks don't need visa when he talks about sanctions. We have to watch carefully what is happening. That is not just a problem connected to Vladimir Putin, but a change of russian attitude in general, which will hold probably for more years to come.