Top US general returns to Europe early

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has cut short a trip to Washington by the top U.S. general in Europe due to Russia’s “lack of transparency” about its troop movements across the border with Ukraine, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

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Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, who is dual-hatted as the head of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, was scheduled to testify before Congress this week on the U.S.’s defense posture in the region but instead returned to Europe on Saturday night.

"Hagel made the decision Friday evening amid growing uncertainty in Ukraine," said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby in a emailed statement.

"He considered Breedlove's early return the prudent thing to do, given the lack of transparency and intent from Russian leadership about their military movements across the border," he said.

"More broadly, he felt it was important for Gen. Breedlove to continue our efforts to consult with NATO allies, and to discuss specific ways to provide additional reassurance for our NATO allies in Eastern Europe."

Breedlove was scheduled to testify before the Senate and House Armed Services committees on Tuesday and Wednesday but is now scheduled to meet with NATO foreign ministers at their Brussels conference on those days.

"While it does not foreshadow imminent military action in Ukraine, the general's return will allow him more time to confer closely with his staff and our allies and partners, and to better advise senior leaders," Kirby said.

U.S. officials have expressed concern that thousands of Russian troops amassed along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, which could be a precursor to further invasions after Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine. Russian officials say they are there for exercises only.

U.S. officials are not specifying how many Russian troops they estimate are at the borders, but Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Olexander Motsyk estimated there were about 100,000 troops amassed at the Ukraine border at a briefing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.