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"You've got the Russian ambassador threatening that Denmark will be a nuclear target if it participates in any missile defence programme.And when you look at the unsafe way Russian aircraft are flying without transponders in proximity to civilian aircraft, that's not professional conduct." Gen Hodges spoke to the Telegraph on the sidelines of a military debriefing after an exercise to move live Patriot missiles 750 miles across Europe by road and deploy them on the outskirts of Warsaw.

Gen Hodges pointed to recent Russian decisions to move Iskandar ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave, between Lithuania and Poland, and long-range nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea."I don't think a military confrontation is inevitable.But you have to be militarily ready in order to enable effective diplomacy," he said."The best insurance we have against a showdown is that Nato stands together." Since taking over command of the US army in Europe last year, Gen Hodges has found himself on the front line of an increasingly nervous stand-off with Vladimir Putin's Russia.Eastern European countries are looking to Nato, and the US in particular, for reassurance that they will not be left to face Russian aggression alone.A year after it pulled its last tank out of Europe, the US is sending hundreds of tanks and heavy fighting vehicles back to the continent, and Gen Hodges is in the middle of talks over where to position them.

But he has also assumed command at a time when many Western European countries are cutting their military budgets, and relying ever more on the US for their defence. " • What is the biggest threat facing the world today? Globally countries are facing pressure on defence spending, including the US.

"I think the question for each country to ask is: are they security consumers or security providers? He declined to be drawn on the UK's defence budget, and the major parties' failure to commit to Nato's spending target of 2 per cent of GDP. "I'm confident the UK will live up to its responsibilities." In recent years, while Western countries have been cutting their defence budgets, Russia has been spending heavily on modernising its military.

"My experience of the UK is principally of the British army, and they are one of the best armies in the world," he said. "The relationship between the US and the UK is as strong as ever and we are always looking for ways to strengthen it. "We're not interested in a fair fight with anyone," Gen Hodges said. I don't think that we've fallen behind but Russia has closed the gap in certain capabilities.

We don't want them to close that gap." The recent involvement of Russian forces in fighting in eastern Ukraine has shown that they have made huge advances, particularly in electronic warfare, Gen Hodges said.

But he doesn't think this is the start of a new Cold War.

"That was a different situation, with gigantic forces and large numbers of nuclear weapons," he said. "We want to see Russia back in the international community and cooperating against Islamic terrorism and on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

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