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Russia is ‘existential threat’ to West that NATO must neutralize in order to prevent ‘power war’, insists bloc’s supreme commander

In a speech published by the Pentagon’s press service on Wednesday, the head of the country’s European Command, Air Force General Tod D. Wolters, claimed that, when it comes to projecting American force abroad, “everything we do is about generating peace.” However, he caveated, “we compete to win … and if deterrence fails, we’re prepared to respond to aggression, primarily through NATO.”

Wolters is also the US-led bloc’s supreme allied commander on the continent, and recent weeks have seen its members stage drills and engage in a series of stand-offs with Russian sailors in the Black Sea. “Beyond exercises,” he added, “we conduct operations and other activities to compete, deter and prepare to respond to aggression,” including maintaining a presence in the disputed region.

The general insisted that the West is locked in a struggle for dominance with Moscow, and it has to come out on top. “We’re in an era of global power competition. Winning in this era is ensuring that global power competition does not become a global power war,” he argued.

“Despite widespread international condemnation and continued economic sanctions, Russia engages in destabilizing and malign activities across the globe, with many of those activities happening close to home,” he said. The US Department of Defense has since added a caveat to the transcript to make it clear he meant to refer to shadowy Russian schemes in Europe, rather than, say, an American presidential election. In that context, Wolters claimed, “Russia remains an enduring existential threat to the United States and our European allies,” he said.

“Russia… and China – having declared itself a near-Arctic power – continued to militarize the region and seek to establish economic footholds to gain influence over regional governance,” he suggested. This, Wolters said, underlined the need to “maintain a credible Arctic deterrence and ensure vital sea lines of communication remain open by securing the Greenland, Iceland and United Kingdom gap.”

With thawing sea ice making the Arctic circle navigable for commercial vessels throughout more of the year, the frozen extremity has seen increasing interest from countries including the US and Russia. Russia, which spans much of the region, has set a target for at least 80 million tons of goods to flow through its frigid waters by 2024.

Last month, Moscow’s Ministry of Defense announced that its snipers had carried out a series of cold-weather drills designed to increase their capabilities to operate in the far north. As part of the wargames, sharpshooters practiced shooting targets at ranges of up to 1,000 meters and in temperatures of -35 degrees Celsius (-31 Fahrenheit) throughout the day and night.

Late last year, Russia reopened a mothballed Soviet-era research facility designed to test the performance of firearms under “extreme temperatures” as low as -60 degrees Celsius. The conditions are designed to mimic environments like the Arctic.

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