Pentagon Brands Russia 'Existential' Threat as Joe Biden Condemns Nation's 'Recklessness'

A top Pentagon commander has warned that Russia remains an "existential" threat to the U.S. and its NATO allies, as President Joe Biden looks to confront Moscow on issues he and his Democratic allies believe were ignored under former President Donald Trump.

The commander of the U.S. European Command, Air Force General Tod D. Wolters said Wednesday that the U.S. is now in "an era of global-power competition," one American must win to ensure "global power competition does not become a global power war."

Wolters said Russia and China are the prime threats to American hegemony, and that both are working to undermine U.S. global power projection and upgrade their own military forces.

The U.S. military budget still eclipses that of both Russia and China combined, but the Pentagon is pivoting away from the asymmetric warfare and counter-terrorism operations that have formed most of its activities over the past two decades, and towards a more traditional great power competition stance.

"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," Wolters said, referring to Moscow's agitation and aggression in Europe.

This is particularly pointed in former Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia, Wolters said. Moscow is using both conventional forces and covert actions to do so, as well as employing private military contractors—for example the Wagner Group—to do the Kremlin's bidding in Europe and further afield in nations including Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic.

"Russia remains an enduring existential threat to the United States and our European allies," Wolters warned.

Both Russia and China are using commercial investment to gain footholds in strategic locations, Wolters added. This includes in the Arctic, where a great power competition is already brewing as retreating ice caused by climate change opens up new sea lanes and lucrative natural resources.

"The activities by Russia and China illustrate the importance for EUCOM to come together with our allies and partners to maintain a credible Arctic deterrence and ensure vital sea lines of communication remain open by securing the Greenland, Iceland and United Kingdom gap," Wolters warned.

Biden has vowed to take a tough line on Kremlin abuses and territorial aggression. Since taking office, the president's team has condemned President Vladimir Putin's suppression of domestic opposition and its covert foreign operations campaign to silence dissidents and undermine liberal democracies.

"The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try to undermine our system of governance," Biden said last week in a speech at the Munich Security Conference. "Russian leaders want people to think that our system is more corrupt or as corrupt as theirs. But the world knows that isn't true, including Russians."

Putin loomed over Trump's time in office, with significant evidence that the Kremlin worked to support his 2016 presidential campaign and stoke social divisions in the U.S. National security officials also warned that Putin sought to denigrate the Biden campaign during the 2020 race.

"Putin seeks to weaken European—the European project and our NATO alliance," Biden said last week. "He wants to undermine the transatlantic unity and our resolve, because it's so much easier for the Kremlin to bully and threaten individual states than it is to negotiate with a strong and closely united transatlantic community."

"That's why standing up for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine remains a vital concern for Europe and the United States," Biden added.

"That's why addressing recklessness—Russian recklessness and hacking into computer networks, in the United States and across Europe and the world, has become critical to protecting our collective security. The challenges with Russia may be different than the ones with China, but they're just as real."

Biden's remarks received a frosty review in Russia. Moscow's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, told reporters Wednesday the president's speech gave "cause for concerns about how we will substantially cooperate with the U.S."

"It's very difficult to imagine how the interaction with us might change with such starting positions of the new administration," he added.

Russia Turkey soldiers pictured in Syria
A Russian military helicopter flies by soldiers and vehicles during a joint Russian-Turkish patrol near Darbasiyah, Syria on December 7, 2020. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty