Russia's seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels is a manifestation of its disregard for global rules and intent to test the West, the top US military officer said Thursday.
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Trump administration was not dealing with a military response to the Nov. 25 incident in the Kerch Strait, in which Russia's coast guard said Into its territorial waters.
"It says a lot about Russia's respect for international standards and standards," Dunford said during a Washington Post live event. "What took place in the Sea of Azov is consistent with a pattern of behavior that really goes back to Georgia, the Crimea and the Donbass in the Ukraine," he said, referring to Russia's steps to itself beyond its borders over the past decade
The incident, which has taken place in the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea in an area where Russia has built a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula to mainland Russia, giving a strong illustration of Moscow's military superiority over Ukraine. It also raises the prospect of further conflict between Russia and Ukraine, at odds over Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in the eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government responded to the incident by claiming martial law and demanding the release of the ships 'crews.'
"In this case clear violations of sovereignty," he said, "we refer to this as a competition that if short of armed conflict, where the Russians are really doing the international community's resolve in enforcing the rules." Dunford said.
Some sort of international response – which could be diplomatic and economic – what needed or Russia would continue to take action, Dunford said. More than 10,000 people have died fighting in Ukraine since 2014.
The response from Dunford and other military leaders, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, illustrated the balancing act Washington faces in his desire to support Ukrainian sovereignty and check Russia's extraterritorial ambitions while
President Trump has embraced the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.
The last of the trump administration was approved weaponry including antitank missiles to Ukraine.
Dunford said he had not discussed the incident with his counterpart, Valeriy Gerasimov, with whom he speaks sporadically.
] Separately, Dunford said the United States and its allies continue to make progress against the Islamic State in Syria, where small groups of extremist fighters have proved a stubborn challenge to US-backed Syrian fighters.
Dunford suggested that the US Syria could be in for an extended mission.