Washington: Washington could potentially respond with military force against Russia if Moscow continues with its aggressive harassment of American forces, the four-star general tapped to head U.S. forces in Europe told Congress.
Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti told members of the Senate Armed Services committee on Thursday that recent Russian aggression against American warships operating in Eastern Europe cannot go unabated.
U.S. forces “reserve the right” to operate in international waters and will not relinquish that right in the face of ongoing Russian intimidation, Gen. Scaparrotti said during an exchange with Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, during the general’s confirmation hearing Thursday.
When pressed by Mr. Cotton on whether or not an American response to Russia’s actions should include military options, Gen. Scaparrotti replied: “We should keep everything on the table.”
President Obama tapped Gen. Scaparrotti, who is currently commander of American forces in Korea, to replace Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove as the head of U.S. European Command in March.
His comments come a week after Russian fighter jets and attack helicopters conducted a series of aggressive, low-altitude passes above a U.S. Navy destroyer participating in maritime warfare exercises in the Baltic Sea.
The USS Donald Cook was carrying out landing deck drills with partner nation forces on April 11 when two Russian-flagged Su-24 fighter jets “made numerous, close-range and low altitude passes” above the vessel, according to a statement by Navy officials with U.S. European Command.
The following day, a Russian KA-27 Helix attack helicopter buzzed the Donald Cook, again forcing its crew to suspend ongoing flight operations. As the Helix continued to circle the deck, two more Su-24 fighters flew 11 aggressive, low passes over the ship, Navy officials said.
The fighters flew “in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian,” according to the service statement.
The U.S. warship would have been justified in firing on the Russian aircraft, due to the dangerous actions of the Russian pilots, Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday.
However, Mr. Obama did not raise the issue during a Monday phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While the Russian maneuvers in the Baltic sea were “destabilizing and a source of some concern … they’re not particularly unusual,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday, seeking to downplay the significance of the Russian flybys.