United States Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the plans at a press conference on Tuesday.
Carter told the assembled media about plans to station tanks, armored vehicles and other military hardware in various European countries close to Russian borders, although he did say that nuclear weapons withdrawn from Europe during the 1980s will not be returning, according to RT.
Heavy military hardware to be sent to Europe
The hardware will be deployed in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania, and it will be moved around to take part in military exercises. Carter made the announcement alongside defense ministers from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during a visit to the Estonian capital, Tallinn.
Vehicles will include Abrams battle tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers. Carter claims that “their purpose is to enable richer training and more mobility to forces in Europe.”
Ministers from the Eastern European countries appear to be reassured by the plans, and believe that the deployment will send a clear message to Vladimir Putin and Russia. “In global terms Russia is no match conventionally to US or to NATO, but here in our corner of the world, Putin believes that he enjoys regional superiority,” said Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser.
He later added that Estonia is willing to host the vehicles with immediate effect. Concerns are growing in the Baltics that a return to the years of Soviet rule is an increasingly realistic possibility, but the vehicles go some way to underlining the U.S. and NATO’s commitment to defending the region.
NATO-Russia tensions continue to grow
On Tuesday, Romanian lawmakers unanimously voted to approve the construction of two new facilities for the use of NATO forces in the country’s capital, Bucharest.
Tensions continue to rise between NATO and Russia due to ongoing accusations of Russian involvement in the war in Ukraine. NATO has announced that its European rapid response force would grow in size to 40,000 personnel as a result of Russian “aggression.”
For its part, Russia sees the deployment of NATO forces in Eastern Europe as a threat to its security, and a violation of previous agreements. Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to respond to NATO’s actions “accordingly.”
“If someone threatens our territories, it means that we will have to aim our armed forces accordingly at the territories from where the threat is coming. How else could it be? It is NATO that is approaching our borders, it’s not like we are moving anywhere,” he said during a press conference.
Fears of escalation
Despite Russian concerns that NATO encroachment towards its borders violates the NATO-Russia Founding Act, Douglas E. Lute, the US Ambassador to NATO, claims that the hardware will not violate the agreement due to the face that it will “only” be in Europe to be used for during training exercises to make them more effective.
Crews for the vehicles will not be permanently deployed in Europe, but rather rotated in and out when required. Although this may allow the U.S. to claim that it is not violating any treaties, it must be said that crews can be deployed far more quickly and easily than the heavy hardware itself.
U.S. officials did assuage fears of a possible nuclear redeployment in Europe, claiming that there are no plans to send nuclear missiles back to Europe. However Russia’s Defense Ministry is concerned that the deployment of conventional heavy weapons could provoke an escalation in the area.
General Yury Yakubov, a senior Defense Ministry official said that the deployment “will be the Pentagon’s and NATO’s most aggressive step since the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago.”