A nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the US makes Russia the “only current existential threat” to Washington, US Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley told lawmakers.

“Because of Russian nuclear capabilities they are the only country on Earth that is capable to destroy the United States,”Milley said on Tuesday, testifying at a budget hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. However, having that capability does not mean Russia is currently planning to use it, he added.

Moscow is likely to “threaten our interests for the next 20 years as they attempt to regain control of historic spheres of influence and shape European economic and security structures in their favor,” according to the top Army general.

Russia will seek to undermine NATO and challenge the US in “all regions of the world,” Milley insisted.

Arguing for the Army’s portion of the Pentagon’s $780 billion budget request for 2020, Milley also said that “near-peer competitors” such as China and Russia are “aggressively pursuing modernization programs” to erode US military dominance.

This is not the first time Milley has made the argument about Russia being an “existential threat” – he said the exact same thing back in 2015, when he became the Army’s chief of staff – nor is he the only one to think and say so within the US military establishment. He is, however, tipped to become the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when General Joseph Dunford retires later this year.

Asked about the threat from Russia to NATO and the US, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House later on Tuesday that he hoped there wouldn’t be any, and that he wanted to have a “good relationship” with Russia.

Trump was speaking after an Oval Office meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who is in Washington to celebrate the alliance’s 70th anniversary this week.

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