A Pentagon official revealed that Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, will depart at the end of October. The news comes during the UN General Assembly, where President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin had what was described as a “candid” meeting regarding their relationship.
“She has advised three secretaries of defense on Russia policy, providing steady counsel on how the U.S. should respond to Russia’s aggressive actions and has been deeply involved in securing $244 million in support for Ukraine,” the official told Politico. “In addition, Evelyn has brought fresh thinking to Southeast Europe policies — supporting Montenegro’s interest in joining NATO, expanding defense cooperation with Georgia, and increasing multilateral cooperation with the three Caucasus nations.”
Farkas did not provide Politico with any comments. However, another official admitted it will be hard to replace her.
“There are not a lot of Europe experts in this administration who have a long record of accomplishment,” said the official. “There’s no doubt this leaves the Pentagon weaker in terms of its policy-making on European issues.”
Farkas received her appointment five years ago. She was one of the few people in Obama’s administration that vocally opposed Russian aggression towards Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea.
“Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian sovereign territory and continued aggressive actions are not just a threat to European security, but a challenge to the international order,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 2014.
She visited Ukrainian troops in May with U.S. Army Europe commander Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges in Yavoriv. The U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team were training the troops to combat against Russian forces. Moscow claimed the training could lead to more destabilization in Ukraine.
“I don’t know how it could possibly be considered destabilizing… The big difference is that we are here at the invitation of the Ukrainian government. The Russians are in Ukraine at nobody’s invitation,” said Hodges.
She also took part in a meeting between the U.S. and Georgia in April to work on “defense and security” within the country’s “strategic partnership charter.” Georgia remains concerned about Russia as they control two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
“The United States will continue to remain active in the region and to strengthen our defense and security relationship with Georgia under the umbrella of strategic partnership commission,” said Farkas.
On Monday, Obama and Putin met in person for the first time in two years to discuss the Syrian civil war and Ukraine crisis. Russia is a strong ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while the U.S., along an international coalition, want Assad to step down. American leadership has publicly been out of out of sync, as Obama told the UN that Assad must go, but Secretary of State John Kerry said the dictator is needed in the “long term” for Syria.
As Politico points out, Obama dismissed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel “after he urged a stronger American response to Russia’s aggression” and did not agree with the president about “arming so-called moderate Syrian fighters against the Islamic State.” On Saturday, officials confessed Syrian rebels handed over their U.S. weapons and equipment to al-Qaeda.