US urges Europe not to soften stance on Russia

US Army commander in Europe says Russia protecting own interests in Syria, warns of troops in Ukraine

US urges Europe not to soften stance on Russia

World Bulletin / News Desk

A senior U.S. commander on Wednesday urged Europe not to soften its stance against Russia following the Paris attacks.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, spoke as Russia seemed to move closer to NATO ally France after the civilians of both countries were seemingly killed in attacks organized by ISIL or its affiliates.

“We cannot be distracted by what Russia is saying or doing in Syria and forget that 25,000 Russian soldiers still sit in the sovereign Ukrainian territory,” he told a security conference in Berlin.

“Nobody should forget that what they are doing there should not distract you from what they are still doing in Ukraine and the threatening posture and activities they have demonstrated against our allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.”

There has been debate in Europe about closer cooperation with Russia in Syria following the attacks in Paris that killed 129 last week. The downing of a Russian airliner with the loss of 224 lives last month has also been blamed on ISIL, which has claimed responsibility for both atrocities.

Sanctions were imposed on Russia last year after it annexed Crimea and for its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Addressing senior military and political officials, Hodges said: “I am sure that the Russians went to Syria, number one, to secure their place, make sure that they will not lose their foothold in the Middle East. They don’t care about [President Bashar] al-Assad. What they care about is to maintain their place there.”

He said the Kremlin wanted to show a domestic audience and the world that it was still a global power and distract attention from Ukraine.

The general accused Russia for not sticking to the terms of the Minsk cease-fire agreement in Ukraine and blocking international observers.

There have been more than 700 violations of cease-fire since Sep 1 and nine Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the last 72 hours, he added.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia’s envoy to NATO, Alexander Grushko, told the conference that Russia was ready to cooperate with the West on common challenges, including fight against ISIL.

He criticized sanctions against Russia and NATO’s reluctance to revive cooperation.

“On the one hand Russia is in very heavy demand as a partner in dealing with the global issues,” Grushko said, referring to the Iran nuclear crisis and the Syrian conflict.

“But at the same time EU and NATO are very reluctant in terms of entering dialogue with Russia. It is up to them to decide.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Kasım 2015, 09:08