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No, USAFE Commander Tod Wolters Did Not Thank Russians for Annexing Crimea

Lithiania -- U.S. Air Forces in Europe Commander Tod Wolters speaks during NATO Baltic air policing mission takeover ceremony in Siauliai, August 30, 2017
Svobodnaya Pressa

Svobodnaya Pressa

Russian News Outlet

“USA Air Forces: ‘Thanks very much to the Russians for taking Crimea”

The quote is cooked up

On February 2, the Russian news daily Svobodnaya Pressa (Free Press) quoted the commander of the U.S. Air Force in Europe, General Tod Wolters, as thanking Russians for “taking Crimea,” the Ukrainian peninsula Russia annexed in 2014.

Svobodnaya Pressa was funded by Vadim Kumin, a State Duma deputy representing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

The writers Sergey Shargunov and Zakhar Prilepin, both known for their pan-Slavic views and support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, lead the outlet.

Ukraine -- Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin with militants of the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics.
Ukraine -- Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin with militants of the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics.

The Svobodnya Pressa article claiming the U.S. Air Force had thanked Russia for taking Crimea from Ukraine referred to an article published on January 5 in the Air Force Times, an independent publication based in Northern Virginia. The Air Force Times article, written by Kyle Rempfer, was headlined: “New in 2019: Airmen will continue stepping up to deter Russia in Europe.”

In the Svobodnya Pressa piece, the words attributed to the U.S. Air Forces were within quotation marks as a direct citation: “‘Thanks very much to the Russians for taking Crimea.” Svobodnya Pressa attributed the quote the commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, General Tod Wolters.

However, while the original Air Force Times article refers to statements made by Gen. Wolters during a conference call with the reporters last March, he never thanked the Russians for taking Crimea.

According to a transcript and video of Wolters’ comments during that conference call, he spoke about deterring Russian aggression and the need for the U.S. to continue its efforts under the U.S. European Deterrence Initiative, aimed at bolstering U.S. allies in Europe.

The Svobodnya Pressa article twice introduced the notion that Wolters was thanking Russia, as part of a wider polemic against allied military spending, forward NATO deployments and U.S. involvement.

The quotation attributed to the Air Force and Gen. Wolters was entirely a fabrication.