The Pentagon has proposed plans to deploy battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other military vehicles and heavy weapons in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.
The New York Times has reported that enough heavy military equipment will be deployed for as many as 5,000 troops. The proposal comes in advance of the NATO defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels later this month. According to senior U.S. officials talking to newspaper reporters, the proposal if approved would mark the beginning of a new era since the end of the cold war in the late 80’s.
For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Washington will be stationing heavy military equipment in the new NATO states that were once part of the former Soviet Union. The anticipated move comes after Russia annexed Crimea following the start of the Ukrainian conflict.
Al Jazeera reports:
Al Jazeera’s Daniel Lak, reporting from Washington, said that “someone at the Pentagon off the record has confirmed to Al Jazeera that this is indeed an active proposal”.
“It’s an incremental change from earlier policies where eastern Europe and several Baltic states were pretty much out of bounds for sending weaponry for possibly deploying troops,” he said.
“It’s a response to what’s seen as increasing tension with Russia and also to requests by all those Baltic states for extra military assistance. They are nervous about Russia’s intention along their mutual borders,” Lak said.
“It’s also for the first time, if it happens, since the Cold War that heavy weaponry like this has been in Europe that was all removed from Europe during the 1990s and up to early 2000s as NATO and Russia became allies.
“It’s a symbol perhaps that situation is changing,” the Al Jazeera correspondent said.
Reassure European allies
The proposal, which seeks to reassure European allies in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March 2014, is expected to be approved by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter and the White House before a NATO defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels this month, the paper said, quoting senior officials.
Asked about the article, a Pentagon spokesman said no decision had been made about the equipment.
“Over the last few years, the United States military has increased the prepositioning of equipment for training and exercises with our NATO allies and partners,” Colonel Steve Warren said in a statement.
“The US military continues to review the best location to store these materials in consultation with our allies. At this time, we have made no decision about if or when to move to this equipment,” he said.
The Times said that as it stood now, the proposal envisaged that “a company’s worth of equipment – enough for about 150 soldiers – would be stored in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Enough for a company or possibly a battalion – about 750 soldiers – would be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary”.
The report comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin told an Italian newspaper last week that his country was “not a threat to the West” and that he was still committed to a Ukraine peace deal.
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