According to the Latvian Ministry of Defense, The United States on Monday delivered over 120 heavy military equipment to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in order to prevent Russian aggression and not let Mr. Putin advance further into Europe.
The equipment, including M1A2 Abrams tanks, M2A3 Bradley armored vehicles, Scout Humvees as well as support equipment, was delivered to the port of Riga, the capital of Latvia. These deliveries are supposed to “demonstrate resolve to President [Vladimir] Putin and Russia that collectively we can come together,” US Major General John R. O’Connor told AFP while overseeing the arrival of the equipment. The armored vehicles would stay “for as long as required to deter Russian aggression,” he said, and added, “Freedom must be fought for, freedom must be defended,” as reported by the US Embassy Riga Twitter feed.
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— US Embassy Riga (@USEmbassyRiga) March 9, 2015
— US Mission to NATO (@USNATO) March 9, 2015
Furthermore, Latvian Minister of Defense Raymond Vejonis welcomed the initiative to deliver yet more tanks and armored vehicles by saying on Twitter that “the presence of our allies (US and NATO) in Latvia is a confirmation of solidarity and security in the region”.
The heavy military equipment transfer comes amid tensions between Washington and Moscow over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year. While Western powers accuse Moscow in the presence of its troops in the eastern Ukraine, and while the Kremlin denies such allegations, NATO plans to expand its military presence in Eastern Europe and help its vulnerable states against Russian aggression.
However, it is important to remember that Russia has not just one weapon to destabilize Baltic states, it is also quite skillful and effective with its media propaganda, political and energy pressure as well as cyber warfare.
The Baltic states and Poland have repeatedly expressed the wish that US troops be deployed in the region on a regular basis, claiming they fear that Russia could attack them any second. There are currently over 150 US troops in Latvia.
On March 6, NATO forces conducted military drills in Latvia, which included training to spot enemy positions, calling in indirect fire support, battlefield first aid as well as tactic training with their Latvian partners.
At the end of 2014, numerous NATO states reported the provocative drills of Russia’s warships, warplanes and air force jets spotted near the borders of the Baltic states.
NATO forces held around 200 military drills in 2014, with the alliance’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg having promised that such exercises would continue. Additionally, as confirmed by a spokesman for the US Embassy in Poland, the deployment of US troops in Poland and the Baltic states has been extended through 2015.
NATO to increase its troops in Europe up to 30,000
In February, it was announced by the NATO’s General Secretary that the alliance’s Rapid Deployment Force in Europe might be increased up to 30,000 troops (more than double of the today’s 13,000), with the troops set to be stationed near the Russian borders. According to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Response Force will consist of brigades, sea and air-based elements and special task troops, with the spearhead of it to be 5,000 servicemen stationed in six command centers in Eastern Europe.
With about50 officers in each, these six Rapid Deployment Force units will be stationed in the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), Bulgaria, Poland and Romania, and are trained to be capable of responding to any threat from Russia’s side. If required, Rapid Deployment Force can be deployed in just two days, with the remaining 25,000 troops to become operational within a week.
On top of that, US is planning to expand its operation from the Baltic to the Black Sea, with Romania and Bulgaria already on board with the initiative to create a so-called ‘southern’ flank. And according to US Army officials, Georgia, Hungary and the Czech Republic are also interested to assist.
“So by the end of the summer, you could very well see an operation that stretches from the Baltics all the way down to the Black Sea,” Defense News reports the words of Colonel Michael Foster, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Italy, on March 2. “As you connect countries, there is almost a line of US troops,” he added.
The Baltic states need to protect themselves for 72 hours
The President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite, who compared the Russian President Vladimir Putin to Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler back in summer 2014, has recently said that the Baltic states are facing a real threat and must be prepared to independently protect themselves for 72 hours in case of a military aggression until NATO allies arrive to help.
On March 5, when asked by foreign journalists about the planned restoration of conscription in Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite said: “We had conscription before 2008, and we thought that it will never be necessary. But with a changing geopolitical situation around our borders, we realized that the threats are very real. The threats are real for our whole region, all Baltic states, and our neighborhood has become less predictable and more aggressive, I mean Russia,” Baltic news service Delfi reports.
The Lithuanian President also spoke out on the subject of the recent uptick in Russian military activity in the Kaliningrad region as well as in the Baltic Sea and in the air. “We know the procedures in NATO. The Rapid Deployment Force can start to work at least from 72 hours. But our nations in the Baltics are quite small. We need to protect ourselves at least for these 72 or more hours,” she said.
Speaking to the Lithuanian journalists, Grybauskaite emphasized that Lithuanians must defend their country as an information war against the Baltic states is already underway. “Already we are in the front line, and the first stage of confrontation is taking place: I mean the informational war, propaganda and cyber-attacks. So we are already under attack. Will it be extended to conventional confrontation? Nobody knows. But already now we need to defend ourselves from this aggressive behavior,” she said.