NATO Commander: Russia's Syria Deployment Aimed To Take Eyes Off Ukraine

Russia In Syria 'To Take Eyes Off Ukraine

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By Mike Eckel


WASHINGTON
-- NATO's top commander says Russia's military deployment to Syria was
aimed at showcasing Moscow's resurgent armed forces, but also to
distract Western attention from the simmering conflict in Ukraine. The
comments by U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove on October 30 came
the same day that Russia staged a major test of its strategic and
tactical missile forces, firing multiple ballistic and cruise missiles
at testing ranges throughout the country.Breedlove told reporters
at the Pentagon that Moscow continued to defy the so-called Minsk
agreements that resulted in a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine's Donbas
region. He said Russia was supplying command-and-control units,
artillery spotting and support, and other materiel to the separatists."Folks
have taken their eye off of Ukraine a little bit because of what's
happening in Syria," Breedlove said. "It's technique they've employed in
the past, a couple of times. Invade Crimea. Take the world's eyes off
of Crimea by invading Donbas. Take the world's eyes off of Donbas by
getting involved in Syria.""This is part of a larger construct by
Russia and we need to be thinking holistically about our response," he
said. "We need to remember that these are connected.""What we
have not seen is Russia removing any of its forces in Ukraine. As you
have heard me report at this podium before, command and control, air
defense, artillery spotting support, artillery support, personnel,
supplies, all still being supplied to the Donbas by Russia," Breedlove
said.The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed
separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, has
killed more than 7,900 people since April 2014.The Russian
missile tests, which appeared to be the largest it has conducted in at
least a year, included the launch of a Kalibr cruise missile from a
Russian ship in the Caspian Sea, as well as intercontinental ballistic
missiles from a nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea in the north and
one in the Sea of Okhotsk, off Russia's eastern coast, the Defense
Ministry said.The exercises also included the firing of a
land-based Topol missile from Plesetsk in northwestern Russia, Tu-160s
strategic bombers launching cruise missiles in the northern Komi region
and the Pacific peninsula of Kamchatka, and an Iskander cruise missile
fired at Kapustin Yar in southern Russia.The tests, and
Breedlove's comments, come as rhetoric between Moscow and the West
continues to ratchet up, with U.S. and NATO aircraft flying in sometimes
close proximity to one another in Syrian airspace.They also come
as NATO stages its largest training exercises in more than a decade,
with 36,000 troops from 30 countries participating in the drills off of
Spain and Portugal. NATO officials said the Trident Juncture drills had
been planned for months, but also highlighted the alliance's concerns
with Russia's often bellicose actions in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.The
Russian military campaign in Syria, which began on September 30 after
weeks of a stealth build-up of troops and equipment, is its largest
outside the former Soviet Union in decades.With advanced military
weaponry such as Su-30M fighter jets and the Kalibr cruise missiles
being used in the air campaign, many analysts believe the Syria
operation is aimed at sending a message that Russian military
capabilities have returned in full.Earlier this week, two
strategic Tu-160 bombers flew within 2 kilometers, and at a height of
150 meters, to the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan in the Pacific
Ocean off East Asia, prompting officials to scramble F/A-18 fighter jets
to escort the bombers.Asked why he thought the Kremlin had
deployed to Syria, where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is a
close ally, Breedlove said, "Mr. Putin wants to be seen as equal on the
world stage, as a world power.""Mr. Putin needs eastern
Mediterranean ports and airfields. Mr. Putin sees the Assad regime as a
guarantor of those ports. Mr. Putin wants the world's eyes off of
Ukraine, to put the focus on Syria, then normalize Donbas. I think he
wants to take the world's eyes off of Ukraine," he said.

www.rferl.org/content/russia-nato-chief-syria-deployment-dis