Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to destroy NATO, said the U.S. Army Europe Commander Ben Hodges on Tuesday. He warned that Moscow could use “hybrid warfare,” like the one in eastern Ukraine, against a NATO member to test the alliance. In a speech to political and military leaders in Berlin, Hodges said he was “sure Vladimir Putin wants to destroy our alliance.”

Vladimir Putin Seeking To Destroy NATO, Says US Commander

NATO will disappear if Article 5 is gone

The U.S. commander said the Russian President was seeking to destroy NATO not by attacking it, but by splintering it, reports Justin Huggle of The Telegraph. Hodges said Vladimir Putin may try to destabilize a NATO member by using rebels as he did in eastern Ukraine. Or he may use some other forms of “ambiguous” warfare.

Since there would be no overt attack from Russia, NATO members might be reluctant to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all. NATO alliance will disappear one the Article 5 is gone, said Gen Hodges. He said American tanks should be positioned in eastern European countries as a deterrent to Moscow.

United States has already decided to send 220 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles to Europe in response to the Ukraine crisis. Gen Hodges has proposed to position tanks in Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania. The U.S. has agreed to send more troops to Poland and three other Baltic states.

Raise the cost for Vladimir Putin

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges estimates that Russia has stationed more than 12,000 troops in eastern Ukraine and about 29,000 troops in Crimea. Another 50,000 Russian soldiers were positioned on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine just in case separatists suffer a major setback. He also accused Russia of trying to gain control of the mouth of the Danube river. It will give Vladimir Putin a stranglehold over the south-eastern European economies.

Gen Hodges said the U.S. and Europe must raise the cost for Vladimir Putin by supporting Ukrainian government forces. Currently, Putin enjoys 85% domestic support. But when mothers will see their sons returning home dead, when the price skyrockets, domestic support for Putin will sink, he added.