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Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Breedlove in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Press Operations

Air Force General Philip Breedlove, commander, Supreme Allied Command Europe and commander, U.S. European Command
October 30, 2015
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GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Okay, good morning. Thanks again for an opportunity to provide you with an update on the things that are keeping us busy at U.S. European Command.

My last visit with you was back in April. So, I'm confident we will have some updates on many lines of effort since that time. I had one intervening conference with you scheduled, as we know, which was canceled for some tough things happening down range.

I will begin with a brief opening statement, and then I will look forward to answering your questions. So, since I was last here, a lot has transpired across the EUCOM theater of operations.

European security challenges continue to grow and become, frankly, more complex. In fact, it would not be an overstatement to say that we are changing on almost a daily basis. Therefore, my key focus areas have remained constant. First, Russia's continued aggressive actions and malign influence remain a top concern and a very high priority. Although the cease-fire in Eastern Ukraine is holding, I'm still concerned about Russia's lack of effort to end its occupations and honor its commitments in Ukraine.

And in Syria, Russia's intervention continues to beg more questions than answers. Russia's actions prolong the conditions creating massive scale immigration of refugees that is further worrying our southern allies. And the eastern allies continue to be concerned about Russian expansion. These concerns, combined with the flow of foreign fighters, are a strategic challenge for all of Europe.

As I stated five months ago, we cannot fully be certain of what Russia will do next. We still cannot fully discern Mr. Putin's intent. But I can observe the capabilities and capacities that Russia is creating across our AOR. And I continue believe that we must strengthen our deterrence and that EUCOM and our NATO allies must continue to adapt by improving our readiness and responsiveness.

One example of how we continue to improve our readiness, interoperability and responsiveness is, of course, the exercise Trident Juncture, going on today, which is the biggest and most ambitious NATO exercise in more than a decade. More than 36,000 troops in 30 nations are participating in this exercise, which represents a clear devastation of NATO's resolve and capability.

The aim of exercise Trident Juncture '15 is to train and test the NATO response force, a high readiness and technologically advanced force comprised of land, air, maritime and special force units, capable of being deployed quickly to support our operations wherever needed.

This exercise is enhancing our ability to work with our allies, partners, and other international organizations in response to crisis situations. We also believe that expanding our training mission in Ukraine, from the ministry of interior's national guard forces, to the ministry of defense's active military component, will grow Ukraine's capability and capacity to address the challenges it faces.

The U.S. focus from the outset has been pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. We continue to call on Russia to fully cease and destabilizing actions in Eastern Ukraine, to end its occupation of Crimea, and to fully honor its Minsk commitments.

Turkey, one of our oldest allies. The situation continues to become more complex around them. Now, a critical partner in degrading and defeating ISIL, we greatly appreciate support, the vital support Turkey provides to the international coalition isolate across many lines of effort. The use of Turkish bases for U.S. strike and supporting continues to be a very important force multiplier.

EUCOM's support to Operation Inherent Resolve from Incirlik Air Base is just one of the ways EUCOM supports across the seams, in this, of course, support CENTCOM.

As you know, most of the forces we have in Europe are also dual-hatted to Africa Command. While they are stationed in Europe, their focus is on AFRICOM missions on the continent. In this way, EUCOM is supporting across that seam into AFRICOM. If you can't tell, I'm building up to congressional testimony, here.

But obviously, I do not want to continue to bang the drum about the centrality of European Command to the global national security issues we face. I do want to bang that drum. Europe isn't what it was 18 months ago, or even six months ago. And new threats and challenges seemingly emerge every day.

We stand ready to meet them, and the supporting commands of CENTCOM and to be the supporting command to AFRICOM, and to be the supported command more and more every day.

Finally, our commitment to our article five obligation in Europe is ironclad. Given the complexity of challenges we face globally, it remains critical that we continue to work together with our allies and partners. This has been true for 60 years in EUCOM, and it is true today.

And with that, I'm ready to take your questions.

STAFF: Jennifer?

Q: General Breedlove, General Milley, the Army chief, just returned from Ukraine. And on the way home, he said that he is recommending a surge of Army forces into Europe.

What does that mean? And if I could, have you seen evidence that the Russians are -- Russian cargo flights are ferrying Iranian weapons from Tehran into Syria? There has been some reporting that there were 10 days, twice a day flights in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

GEN. BREEDLOVE: Let me answer the second one first, because it is fairly easy.

I have not personally seen any confirmation of that. I have read the same things that you have read. So, I can't give you any other definition on that Iranian cargo.

As to General Milley's remarks -- Mark, a good friend and a great chief. He had I have been talking from the very beginning about how we would address force concerns in Europe. Our force structure in Europe now is not adequate to the larger Russian task that we see.

And how do we address that? I think we all accept that our current permanent force structure will probably not change. And so, how do we address the need for increased force posture?

And what we see is working to gather on a formula of increased pre-positioning of equipment forward. As you know, we are in the -- we are just now finishing the full deployment of one heavy brigade of pre-position material forward. And we're now looking at what further pre-position material we need to address.

And Ray Odierno and I had worked on this before he left. And General Milley -- Mark and I have picked it up into the next administration of the chief of staff of the Army. And Mark is very supportive of what I think is important. The ability to rapidly reinforce Europe will rely first on fast-moving troops falling in on pre-positioned materials.

And so, we need to have the appropriate composition and type of pre-positioned materials put forward. And both General Odierno before and General Milley, now, after and I have very similar visions of what that will take. And we'll roll that out over the next months.

And then, the -- to address the force posture that falls in, what you have seen already in our Operation Atlantic Resolve, OAR, is a rotating force into these most forward nations, the Baltics, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria. And what we are talking about now is what is the appropriate size and composition of that future force, that marries with a NATO rotation possibly into the same nations to develop assurance and deterrence into the future.

So, these are the things that we're talking about.

STAFF: Courtney?

Q: General, you talked about Turkey has little bit. Last week Secretary Carter said that -- or this week, I guess it was, Secretary Carter said that there were going to be more airstrikes into OIR going forward. What role does Incirlik play in that?

There's already A-10s there. Do you see new Air Force platforms going in there. What would they be? What kind of missions would they be doing? What is the future for Turkey and Incirlik?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, I will be a bit unsatisfying. I'm not going to share the details yet, because we are still discussing this. But yes, we are looking at some increases to the capabilities at Incirlik. We are looking at it in really two venues. One venue, to provide some increased support to OIR, as you mentioned.

Secondarily, to show in the NATO sense, support to our Turkish ally as we help them to address their concerns about their airspace. So, in the venue of the NATO mission Active Fence, we might be making some contributions as well. But details are to follow. But I can confirm that we are looking at all of these options right now.

STAFF: Barbara?

Q: General Breedlove, can we keep on Turkey for a minute. When you look at the ground -- that border, what you seeing in terms of the Turks unwilling at this point to let the forces, the Kurdish, the Pesh, Northern Syria, Northern Iraq, especially on the Syrian side, let those forces move around and advance, and let them continue to advance to the west?

Many people say the Turks are basically one of the factors keeping those forces bottled up. And what would you like to see happen on that border so they can carry out the president's strategy of trying to get more progress against ISIS?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, Barbara, I will answer most of that. A lot of the question is best addressed to Lloyd Austin, because it's sort of a CENTCOM mission.

But I can address several pieces of that. First, let me talk about the EUCOM side of that border. And we see, as you know, and you have seen reported, and a lot of improvement in the Turkish control of that border. They have put a Turkish Gendarmerie, brigadier general. I believe the way he pronounces his last name is Mendi.

And he has been given the mission of stopping the flow of -- especially foreign fighters et cetera, et cetera, across the border. And we have all seen a marked improvement. Now, there are still work to be done, but we have seen a marked improvement.

General Mendi has made a different, and it reflects that the Turks have taken a position to try to address that issue. So, we see a good progression on the north side of the border.

On the south side of the border, as you described, this is a complicated area. And people in the areas are seen differently by several nations in the area. And so, what I would tell you is that we are committed to work very closely with our Turkish allies to address their concerns, but to forward the mission on the south side of that border.

Q: But what are the commands -- just follow up briefly? What are the specific concerns you are hearing from the Turks about the south side of the border what you're referring to?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, as you know, our Turkish allies see some of the Kurdish factions in a way that threatens them. And they have been defined as terrorists and others, in some cases. And so, the Turks are very concerned that we are working appropriately with all the groups on the south side of that border. And that is what I mentioned earlier. That we will work with Turkey to address their concerns closely on that side of the border, as we work towards advancing the mission of moving ISIL to the south.

Q: General, you said that Russian action in Syria provides more questions than answers. They have been quite clear what they are doing is propping up Assad and going after any rebels that threaten him.

So, what questions do you have?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: Well, I think they have been clear in the very recent past about what they're doing. As you know, they started off saying we are all there about ISIL, and what we saw actually happening on the ground was very, very different. And so, their approach is beginning to clarify now, they're pretty forward about the fact that they are bombing the moderate Syrian opposition and other groups in the northern area.

That raises questions about what is our future path in Syria. I think all understand that we need a political transition in Syria. The moderate opposition is a part of forcing that political decision. And the actions we see the Russians taking now, we believe, prolongs this conflict, which prolongs the problem of the flow out of people into Europe and other places.

So, right now, the questions we have is, how do you reconcile the actions that they're taking on the ground with the idea of stopping this flow of people? With the idea of allowing a political transition in Syria.

Q: So, he's killing the moderate opposition, some of whom have been trained and supported by the U.S. Should the U.S. do anything about it or just watch them die?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, I think I would just refer you to the comments of both the secretary and General Dunford in their testimony this past week, that we need to support our moderate opposition.

STAFF: Bill?

Q: Yeah, general, my question is about the INF Treaty. It was reported last month that Russia conducted a test of a new ground launch cruise missile, which is said to be the violation that was identified a year ago.

Are you concerned about this new threat to Europe, and what are you doing to assure the allies and counter this weapon?

And secondly, the Russians also said they would withdraw from the INF Treaty if the U.S. went ahead with plans to deploy additional tactical nuclear weapons in Germany. Can you address those both?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: You said if they -- if we deploy additional tactical weapons? I'm not sure that is what they said. They're questioning what we're talking about in the upgrade of our tactical nuclear weapons, yes.

So, the -- not to trivialize your first question, September 2nd is not the first time that we have seen testing that looks like it violates the INF. And we have been discussing this with them for some time now. And -- both in the U.S. bilateral sense, and then NATO is equally as concerned about it.

So, the violation is not new, and yes we are concerned. And you have heard our secretary talk as long ago as his testimony about how he sees a framework for addressing those violations.

As far as withdrawing from the INF, these are -- what we hear are threats that are being made in the face of our upgrade, our life extension program to our tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

We're not bringing new weapons, we are not bringing more weapons. We're ensuring the safety and the functionality of the weapons that are there. So, I actually believe this is just another way to create dialogue and to try to bring pressure on our alliance.

There is nothing new about these weapons as far as numbers, and style, capabilities, et cetera.

Q: But you're going to go ahead with the upgrade, right? That's --

GEN. BREEDLOVE: That has been long programmed, and we are continuing with the upgrade of our weapons.

This is about safety and reliability. These are things that you want to have in nuclear weapons. I'm stymied at the concern.

STAFF: Phil, go ahead.

Q: Yeah. I wanted you to take a step back, if you could, just for a second.

Looking at the Russian buildup inside Syria, the speed with which it happened, and the fact that back in June or July, I think a lot of -- few people would have guessed that Russia would have kind of doubled down in Syria of Assad, who at that point, seemed to be kind of retrenching.

I'm wondering, do you think there is a lack of U.S. capability to anticipate decisions by Russia?

And if so, how does that affect your decision-making in your role right now in NATO?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, there is going to be nothing new in my answer. I have answered this question several times in the past. I have identified that we have a lack of ability to see into Russia, especially at the operational and tactical level.

We have kept a good focus on the strategic level across the years. And why has this happened? I really do not fault what our nation has done. Remember that over the last two decades, we have been trying to make a partner out of Russia. Some say as much as two decades; 18 years, 14 years, it does not matter what exactly it is, but for almost two decades, since the fall of the wall, we've been trying to bring Russia into a family of norms and values that align with the western world.

And you have seen a lot of reaching out to them in economics, energy, et cetera, by Europeans, America, in this time. Of course, in 2008, we had a burp, okay, they invaded Georgia. And that was concerning and remains concerning. But the world went back to trying to make a partner out of Russia after 2008 until just recently when they invaded Crimea.

So, during that time, when we were trying to make a partner out of Russia, and we were having these issues in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places, we have taken our limited bucket of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance capabilities, and focused them at the operational and tactical level in different places in the world.

We had taken the view off Russia and placed it in places where we had forces fighting and engaged on the ground. So, for the last two decades, we have done just that. We had kept a strong focus on their strategic level, so that we could keep after those things that worried us most in their strategic forces.

But the capability to include analysts that we used to have on Russia, that capability and capacity had been shifted to the pressing concerns that we saw in CT and other areas.

Q: Are not where we need to be now? Are we really far away?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: We are not where we need to be now, and the I.C. is addressing it; the I.C. has already made some fairly dramatic changes in the last several months about how we use our analysts, and they are beginning to look at reprioritizing assets as well.

So, we're gently turning the nose of this ship to get back to what do we need to be looking at.

So, just to recap so that I'm not mischaracterized, I think our nation made decisions over the last two decades that were congruent with our approach to Russia. And now, we see that possibly we did not have that partner that we thought we had for the last two decades. And we're having to readjust, and the I.C. is doing that. And I'm thankful for it.

Q: If I could follow up, sir, on what Phil asked you, do you think that you can do business with the Russians at this point in time? Are they a partner?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, right now, I do not see them as a partner. I would ask you to grade their paper across the last 18 months.

But -- but let's get this on the table, too. If we are going to have a Europe whole, free, at peace and I add, prosperous -- that's not part of this sort of standard vernacular -- but if we're going to have a Europe whole, free, at peace and prosperous, at some point in the future when they have changed their behavior on the ground, we need to find that -- you used the word, whatever it is, is it cooperation -- whatever it is, there is some word that has to describe a relationship in the future, if we're ever going to get to whole, free, at peace, and prosperous.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Clarify. Are the Russians still based at NATO headquarters in Brussels?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: I think that the largest part of the Russian delegation has departed Brussels. I do believe that there is a very small contact point there. But I do not have the exact numbers, but my characterization is, there used to be a big mission; it has really gone down, now.

STAFF: Courtney?

Q: Since I know that you love -- you love to speak about intelligence matters from the podium, can you talk -- give us a little bit more fidelity about the I.C. reprioritizing?

And what do you mean by they're changing how they use analysts, and what -- I guess, can you tell us what they are --

GEN. BREEDLOVE: Can I ask you to talk to them about that? I mean --

Q: Well, but I have here, so, why not --

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, I will be extremely honest. I know the details, but I'm not willing to talk to them at this podium. I would ask you to talk to the I.C. about it.

But let me tell you, what I said at the end is very true. The intel community has seen the need, and they have begun to make the adjustments, which I think are appropriate. But it will take time.

Q: So, you're seeing better intelligence on Russian activities since this change in the last several months, or what's -- can you give us a timeline on that?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: Yeah, I'd rather avoid that right now.

Q: General -- General, do you see the need for an international body to investigate the Doctors Without Borders? The strikes at the hospital? And what are your reasons for doing so?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, there is an international body looking at it now. The Afghans, the U.S. -- that's an international body. So, we, as you know, have a NATO investigation that is ongoing, and I think it will report out sooner rather than later. I think it is approaching a time when it can report out.

I think that our U.S. investigation is ongoing. And then the Afghans are also doing their own look at it. I think that our leadership has been extremely clear in this, and that is that we support a full, transparent, open investigation. That is what is happening, first and foremost in this case. We are -- you know, we are all saddened by the loss of life, and our hearts and minds go out to the families of those that were lost. And we need to learn.

You have heard the commanders say that this was a mistake, and that we are looking at everything from personnel actions to procedural actions, to equipment issues to determine how and what happened so we can address it in the future.

Q: But sir, do you support an international body -- as suggested by Doctors Without Borders -- investigating this? I believe there was a recent report in Deutsche Welle which suggested that you would look favorably upon that, having an international body -- was that incorrect?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: Yeah, so I am in favor of whatever it takes to get to a full, open, transparent investigation.

Q: Including an international body?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: I am in favor of supporting anything it takes to get to a full, open, and transparent investigation.

Q: Thank you, general, for being with us. Good to see you again.

I wanted to ask on two things you had talked about. First, Ukraine, second Syria.

On Ukraine, you mentioned that the end of next month, the United States is going to start training the ministry of defense troops instead of the coast guard.

Can you give us more details on the scope and the type of the training that will be going on then?

And also in Syria, some critics have said -- I know most of your talks have been on the refugee crisis, but a lot of critics have said that Russia is filling a vacuum that European nations were not helping in Syria. Can you talk about some of the conversations you have had with your European counterparts on the situation in Syria?

Is the United States getting anymore commitments to help in Syria?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: Okay. So, let's first go to the training at Yavoriv. And not to waste your time, but I've been there, I have watched the training on the ground, I have watched the last iteration of training to the national guard troops. And the scope, size and type will not change at all. We will do start to rotate through battalions of active duty vice National Guard.

In our context that may sound like a big division, in their context, it is not too much. So, the training will be almost exactly the same. We are working on small unit skills, leadership skills, the ability to employ as a team, et cetera.

And I must tell you that our soldiers are pretty impressed with their soldiers. What the Ukrainians have done, which I think is very smart is, as they bring these battalions back, they have sort of a mix of new guys, but they also have some folks who have been on the front line, under fire by the Russians every day.

And so, they have a great experience of what it is like to be hit by modern artillery, et cetera, et cetera. And so, these guys are able to share well inside of their formation as they are being trained by our troops from Europe.

So, very little change, just a different audience.

Q: And then on Syria?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, I don't agree with the assertion that there is a filling of a vacuum.

Because remember, we have a coalition that is addressing this problem, and all 28 nations of NATO are in that coalition. So, the Europeans are a part of the force that is working against ISIL and Syria. I think Russia's goals there are different, separate and very clear. If somebody wants to talk about that, we can do that.

STAFF: Go ahead.

Q: Back on the re-prioritization that we had asked about earlier, in one of your previous visits, you talked about ISR. And I had asked you about the board ISR across COCOMs, and you said you had received a small, small fraction, I think like 2 percent.

Has that changed? Have you been getting more ISR coverage? And is it what you need?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, the changes to the system are being -- this is an annual cycle of how this is allocated. That is happening in the building now. And the results are not out. But the building clearly understands my requirement for ISR in Europe and it's one of the reasons I'm back here is to work this issue in this building.

Q: Good morning, General. You talked about the Army -- General Milley to work on the Army location, of course.

What about the Navy? The Russian fleet has shown increased activity obviously in the Black Sea, they've entered the Med, they're even going else where. You know, do you see the need for any additional Naval forces in your region?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, first, the good news. As you know, a fourth of the destroyers that will be stationed at Rota has arrived and has entered into our rotation in Europe. And so, unlike the Air Forces and other forces, and Army forces in Europe, which have drawn down for a while, the Navy forces are actually growing in Europe as those ships are permanently assigned. So, we have four very capable Aegis destroyers now, that are a huge part of our rotation capability and have already been used to demonstrate Freedom Of Action in the Black Sea and other places, which the Russians would like to say is now denied to us.

And so, the good news is that force is in being and it is there. There is a requirement for more. And again, the process is for how we allocate those forces are going on in this building right now. And that is part of the reason why I am home to advocate for what I think is an increased need to address the Russian Navy as it is growing in the Black Sea fleet, as you have seen as presence grow in the Eastern Med, et cetera, et cetera.

Q: The SPMAGTF -- and you have -- and the crisis response for Europe and Africa. You know, they would like to be a float, and the Navy doesn't -- currently doesn't have an amphib or anything else for them to move around on. Could -- would they benefit from having some kind of a float -- amphib or some other ship to be on?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, you just put a fact on the table that is not in my work. Right now, I think that the Special-Purpose MAGTF working out of Moran, and the -- quite frankly, the acceptance of our great allies, Italy, Greece, others to move them around to places we need to have them postured for rapid insertion if required has been very good. And we are getting incredible cooperation out of these nations, especially Spain, who is hosting them now at Moran.

And so, I think that right now, our ability can be meet Rod Rodriguez's requirements in AFRICOM can be met from our current construct.

STAFF: (off-mic)

Q: Good morning, general. Going back to Ukraine and Russia, your comments on Russia's involvement in Ukraine have been mostly unchanged over the past few months. And I was wondering if there is anything you are seeing on the ground in Eastern Ukraine that has given you cause for concern, or is it safe to say that Russia has shifted its efforts from Ukraine to Syria?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, it's an -- it's an excellent question, and it's one I wanted to answer today, because I think we have to examine what is going on in Ukraine.

And what I'm concerned is that folks have taken their eye off of Ukraine a little bit because of what is happening in Syria. And that is -- that is a technique that I think has been employed here a couple of times. Invade Crimea. Take the world's eyes off of Crimea by invading Donbass. Take the world's eyes off of Donbass by getting involved in Syria.

And we to be focused on the fact that this is a larger construct by Russia. And we need to think holistically about our response to Russia. For example -- and I will get more specifically to the answer in a minute -- but more specifically, if Russia truly wants to cooperate, collaborate or whatever in Syria, a great place to -- to demonstrate that is to begin to cooperate and collaborate in the Donbass and start moving towards those Minsk requirements, like returning the border of Ukraine to Ukraine so that Ukraine controls its own international border.

And so if we saw good-faith work in Ukraine, maybe that starts a conversation in other places. We need to remember that these are connected.

In Ukraine, of course, we are very thankful for the work done in the Normandy format. We are thankful for -- that we see a lessening of tensions along the line of contact, although we still have skirmishes here and there. We are thankful for the leading edges of what appears to be moving back some of the weapons.

What we have not seen his 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 Donbass by Russia.

So good faith there would begin the retrograde of those Russian forces out of the Donbass, and that would be a good show of faith, I think.

STAFF: (off mic)

Q: Good morning, general.

Could you tell us whether there is any change with respect to the Patriots pulled out of Turkey, whether they will be going back to Turkey given that the Assad regime forces seem to move up to northern Syria, and also given that the Russians have deployed ground and air elements into Syria, and also recently violated Turkish airspace?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, as you know, the Patriots were brought home for a purpose, because they had been there for quite some time and we needed to get them back to retrofit and to upgrade them so that we can continue to be able to use them against the -- the continuing threats that are built in the world.

And we are working with other allies to look at what other contributions other allies may bring to the issue. As you know, the Spanish Patriots remain in place.

And to the earlier conversation we had, we are looking at other things that we can do to contribute to Active Fence, which is the operation which the Patriots were contributing to.

And our Turkish allies have given us some concerns that they have about the ability to defend their airspace and other things. And so NATO and U.S. are looking at those options.

But right now, the Patriots are going to be a long-term refurbishment, and there is no plan for those specific Patriots to return.

Q: Sir, If I could go back to Russian intent in Syria. DNI Clapper said in an interview in the last 24 hours that he doesn't think Putin has a plan in Syria. He's making it up as he goes along. Do you agree? What is Putin's plan in Syria?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: Thanks, Jennifer.

I've said in the past that anyone -- you know, that I can't tell what Mr. Putin is going to do. So what I look is, as I've said before, what are the capabilities and capacities that he's creating? And then we determine from that what he might be choosing to do.

But I think it's important to just sort of think through why Mr. Putin might be in Syria, and -- and I have done that, and this is my opinion, not one of NATO or of anyone else.

But I think learned folks will agree that Mr. Putin and Russia want to be seen as an equal on the world stage and as a world power. I think Mr. Putin and Russia needs eastern Mediterranean ports and airfields.

I think Mr. Putin sees the Assad regime as the guarantor of those airfields and ports. And so he needs to support the Assad regime in order to maintain those.

I think, as we talked about earlier, Mr. Putin wants the world's eyes off of Ukraine. Focus on Syria, and then try to normalize Donbass, like he normalized Crimea when he cranked up in the Donbass. I think he wants to take the world's eyes off of what his -- his support to Ukraine continues.

And then in the endgame, beyond all of those, I think that Mr. Putin does want to address ISIL and other things. He sees those as a threat to him also in Russia. But I think there's a hierarchy of needs here that sort of explain his actions.

Q: Yeah, on Monday, two Russian bombers overflew the Reagan, and I know that's not your theater.

GEN. BREEDLOVE: Yeah.

Q: But I wanted to ask, have there been continuing Russian provocative and unsafe flights in your area?

And -- you've addressed this, what's behind it? Why are they doing these kinds of things?

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, we had a period, and in fact, we talked about it from this podium, I think, the last time, where there was a bit of an increase in these interactions. If you remember, I reminded that some of that increase in interactions is because we have stepped up our responses. We used to have one air policing base in Northern Europe. For a while, we were up to three.

We were putting up more interceptors, and so there was more interaction. So, it is a complex dance of why there was increased interaction. But we did see increased interaction. And we saw increased --what I would call more bellicose interactions, more -- a few more bellicose intercepts. You know, you have heard from many of the nations about flying through their airspace without transponders on, et cetera, et cetera.

So, there was a period. I would opine that in the past few weeks or so, it has been a bit more normal, because we have seen a real focus on Syria.

But these actions continue. And they continue all around the periphery of Russia. They are still happening in Europe. And they are still happening in Russia -- or in the far east, in Asia.

STAFF: Last question, anybody?

Tom?

Q: But what about along the Baltics? What are you seeing there, what is Russia -- any snap exercises, now that everyone is focused on Syria and not that area? Are you seeing anything different? Or is that kind of --

GEN. BREEDLOVE: So, as you know, in response to our last series of exercises in the Baltics, we saw some big exercise across the line and some snap inspections. And at one point, approaching our last ministerials, a staff sort of nuclear exercise, et cetera.

Again, I think these are clear messages that are sent. In the very recent past, no, we have not seen a lot of it, because I think everything is focused on working the Syria peace.

Thank you all.

STAFF: Thank you guys very much.