By Debbie Gregory.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter is calling Russia a “very, very significant threat,” agreeing with an assessment made by top military officials. Describing Russia’s behavior under President Vladimir Putin as that of an “antagonist,” Carter said a potential conflict with Russia is not something that the U.S. has had to think about since the Cold War.
During confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who will take over as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs this year, and Army Gen. Mark Milley, who recently became the Army’s new chief of staff, both named Russia as the top threat.
Carter said that the Pentagon’s strategy in countering Russia included an approach he called “strong and balanced.”
“The strong part means we are adjusting our capabilities qualitative and in terms of their deployments, to take account of this behavior of Russia,” he said.
While the U.S. must deal with Russia’s new aggression on the world stage, Carter said America will continue to work with Russia on things like counterterrorism and conflicts with Iran and North Korea. This cooperation leaves the door open for a peaceful future relationship with Russia, he said.
“The balanced part is we continue to work with Russia, because you can’t paint all their behavior with one brush. There are places where they are working with us: in counterterrorism in many important respects, in some respects, with respect to North Korea, in some respects with respect to Iran and elsewhere,” he said.
“So where Russia sees its interests as aligned with ours, we can work with them and will continue to do that,” Carter added.
U.S. and Western allies were forced to impose several rounds of sanctions on Moscow last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
“We’ll continue to hold open the door so that if either under Vladimir Putin or some successor of his in the future, there’s a leadership that wants to take Russia in the direction that, I believe, is best for Russia,” Carter said.