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Pentagon Chief says Ukraine Issue Demands Political & Military Response

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter also said that relations with Russia are unlikely to improve so long as Vladimir Putin remains in power

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made waves as he flew into Europe this weekend, carrying a strong message of support to the country's allies in the region – especially the Baltic states – to calm what he claims are “growing concerns” about perceived Russian aggression.

Carter, who will pay visits to several European capitals on his trip, said the main exercise was to discuss how the U.S., NATO and its partners can “deal with” Russia over its stance on the Ukrainian conflict. The U.S. accuses Russia of annexing the Crimea and supporting separatists fighting Ukrainian government forces in the east of the country, TASS reported.

Arriving in Berlin on Sunday, Carter said that the cooling of relations between Washington, Europe and Moscow could last until the end of Vladimir Putin's presidency. That's because Russia is unlikely to change its current political course while Putin remains the country's leader, Carter said. As such, both the U.S. and NATO are preparing for a long period of tension. Carter also criticized recent comments by President Putin that Russia would target its military forces against any “threats” it faces, saying that such behavior is 'inappropriate'.

Carter also said that the current economic sanctions targeted against Russia are unlikely to change its stance on Ukraine. Therefore, Washington needs to come up with both a political and a military response to the crisis, he said.

"The United States at least continues to hold out the prospect that Russia, maybe not under Vladimir Putin, but maybe sometime in the future, will return to a forward-moving course, rather than a backward-looking course," the Associated Press quoted Carter as saying.

The Defense chief added that he wants to talk with European leaders about a balanced approach toward Russia, which involves bolstering Europe’s military capabilities. At the same time, allies need Moscow as they fight terrorism and try to hammer out a nuclear agreement with Iran, Carter said.

Carter is meeting with German officials in Berlin on Monday, before traveling to Tallinn, Estonia, on Tuesday, then on to Belgium, where he will attend a NATO defense ministers meeting, his first NATO ministerial since taking over as Pentagon chief in February. After visiting Estonia and Belgium, Carter will return to Germany on Friday to participate in an exercise involving more than 12 nations.

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