WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An armored U.S. military brigade permanently stationed in Europe would be more effective at deterring Russian aggression in the region than the current rotational presence, the Army general nominated to lead U.S. forces in Europe said on Thursday.
General Curtis Scaparrotti, President Barack Obama's choice to lead U.S. European Command and become the next NATO supreme allied commander, said he agreed with other military leaders that Russia posed the greatest threat to the United States and Washington should be firm in asserting its rights.
"From a military perspective, we should sail and fly wherever we are allowed to by international law, and we should be strong, clear and consistent in our message in that regard," Scaparrotti told his nomination hearing when asked about a recent incident in which Russian jets buzzed a U.S. warship.
Scaparrotti told the Senate Armed Services Committee he thought Washington should supply Ukraine with the arms it needs to defend itself against Russian-backed forces, including an anti-tank missile like the Javelin. He also said he was "concerned" about the threat Russian submarines pose to U.S. shipping routes.
Scaparrotti and Air Force General Lori Robinson, Obama's nominee to become the next leader of U.S. Northern Command, both identified Russia as the top U.S. military threat.
Scaparrotti told lawmakers a resurgent Russia was displaying "increasingly aggressive behavior that challenges the international norms, often in violation of international law."
Asked about U.S. forces in Europe, he said a permanent U.S. armored brigade would be better at deterring Russia than the current rotational presence.
The United States began reducing its presence in the region several years ago due to big cuts in defense spending, replacing permanent units with rotations of troops that traveled to Europe for training.
But Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula led the U.S. military to increase its presence again. In March, it said it would deploy rotations of U.S.-based armored brigade combat teams to Europe. A typical U.S. Army armored brigade has about 4,500 soldiers.
The teams would be on nine-month rotations starting in February 2017, and would conduct military exercises across Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. Scaparrotti told lawmakers a permanent presence would be better.
"A permanent brigade ... establishes relationships with the supporting elements of all forces from the United States as well as a more permanent relationship ... with all of our allies," he said. It "gives you a little more substance, a little more strength in relationship building."
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and David Alexander; Editing by James Dalgleish)