The United States and its NATO allies are preparing militarily for the prospect that their rift with Russia could outlast President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Sunday.
Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has put NATO allies in eastern Europe on edge and triggered a series of military moves by the alliance, including an acceleration of exercises and the creation of a NATO rapid response force.
Carter, speaking at the start of a week-long trip to Europe, said the United States hoped Russia would return to a forward-looking course and noted areas of diplomatic cooperation with Moscow, including talks over Iran’s nuclear program.
But ongoing changes to NATO’s military posture, which are meant in part to deter a Russian intervention, illustrate preparations for longer-lasting tensions, he said.
“The adaptations I was talking are specifically in anticipation that Russia might not change under Vladimir Putin, or even thereafter,” Carter said before landing in Berlin.
Asked whether he thought Putin might change course, Carter said he hoped so, but “I can’t be sure.”
Putin was elected president in 2012 for six years. Under Russian law, the head of state is limited to two consecutive terms, so he could run again in 2018 for another six-year mandate.