NATO allies are preparing to put four battalions, a force of about 4,000 troops, in Poland and three Baltic States as part of an effort to reinforce the border with Russia.
US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said the deployment was in response to Russia stepping up military activity around the Baltics
“The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises right up against the borders, with a lot of troops,” the Wall Street Journal cited Work as saying “From our perspective, we could argue this is extraordinarily provocative behavior.”
Russia meanwhile has repeatedly said that their own buildup and exercises were a response to the build up of NATO’s troops and their aggressive posture toward Moscow.
They have warned that the military build up on their border is provocative and could harm regional and global stability.
Although there have already been talks about German troops to be deployed to Lithuania, Berlin is still mulling its participation.
“We are currently reviewing how we can continue or strengthen our engagement on the alliance’s eastern periphery,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, in light of a recent poll from the Bertelsmann Foundation that found only 31 percent of Germans would welcome the idea of German troops defending Poland and the Baltic States.
London has not made its mind either, yet is expected to do so before the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw in July.
Ahead of the deployment, NATO officials are also discussing the possibility of making the battalions multinational, combining troops from different countries under the joint NATO command and control system.
Moscow has been unhappy with the NATO military buildup at Russia’s borders for some time now.
“NATO military infrastructure is inching closer and closer to Russia’s borders. But when Russia takes action to ensure its security, we are told that Russia is engaging in dangerous maneuvers near NATO borders. In fact, NATO borders are getting closer to Russia, not the opposite,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter daily.
Poland and the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have regularly pressed NATO headquarters to beef up the alliance’s presence on their territory.
According to the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, the permanent presence of large NATO formations at the Russian border is prohibited. Yet some voices in Brussels are saying that since the NATO troops stationed next to Russia are going to rotate, this kind of military buildup cannot be regarded as a permanent presence.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says it’s ready for a tit-for-tat response to any NATO military activity near Russia’s borders. As Russia’s envoy to NATO Aleksandr Grushko put it, there are no “passive observes” in the Russian armed forces and Moscow would definitely compensate militarily for an “absolutely unjustified military presence.”