Arms move: U.S. may put heavy equip­ment in Eastern Europe.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY MISSY RYAN missy.ryan@wash­post.com Michael Birn­baum, in Tbil­isi, Ge­or­gia, con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The Pen­tagon is con­sid­er­ing po­si­tion­ing heavy weaponry and equip­ment in Baltic states and Eastern Europe to sup­port train­ing with re­gional al­lies, of­fi­cials said Satur­day, a move that could heighten ten­sions with Rus­sia over the con­flict in Ukraine.

Capt. Greg Hicks, a mil­i­tary spokesman, said that Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the com­man­der of U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand and Supreme Al­lied Com­man­der of NATO Europe, had made a rec­om­men­da­tion re­lated to prepo­si­tion­ing of equip­ment to De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton B. Carter. “The de­ci­sion rests with [Carter],” Hicks said.

Hicks de­clined to char­ac­ter­ize Breedlove’s rec­om­men­da­tion. But of­fi­cials, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions, said that the pro­posal, if ap­proved, would put equip­ment such as Humvees or Bradley fight­ing ve­hi­cles at sites in coun­tries that might in­clude Latvia, Lithua­nia, Es­to­nia, Poland, Ro­ma­nia, Bul­garia or Hun­gary.

Of­fi­cials said no de­ci­sion has been made, but they sug­gested that Carter could ap­prove the pro­posal ahead of a NATO min­is­te­rial meet­ing later this month.

The con­flict in Ukraine will be an im­por­tant sub­ject at that NATO meet­ing, as Euro­pean na­tions warn of the danger­ous trans­for­ma­tion that the West’s stand­off with Rus­sian leader Vladimir Putin, which be­gan with Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea last year, has had on re­gional se­cu­rity.

Provoca­tive mil­i­tary ma­neu­vers by Rus­sian air­craft and ships have cre­ated alarm in Euro­pean cap­i­tals. In re­sponse, NATO na­tions have launched ex­er­cises and other ac­tiv­i­ties near Rus­sia’s bor­ders.

While Pres­i­dent Obama has is­sued stark warn­ings about the dan­gers of Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in Ukraine, he has so far not cho­sen to pro­vide lethal weapons to Ukrainian forces fac­ing off against Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratists. At the same time, as it warns of fur­ther re­tal­i­a­tion over Ukraine, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion must also en­gage with Moscow over Ira­nian nu­clear talks and other is­sues.

Con­sid­er­a­tion of the new weaponry was first re­ported by the New York Times.

Col. Steve War­ren, a Pen­tagon spokesman, said the United States had in­creased the “prepo­si­tion­ing” of equip­ment for train­ing and ex­er­cises with var­i­ous part­ner coun­tries.

“The U.S. mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to re­view the best lo­ca­tion to store th­ese ma­te­ri­als in con­sul­ta­tion with our al­lies,” War­ren said in a state­ment. “At this time, we have made no de­ci­sion about if or when to move this equip­ment.”

Of­fi­cials dis­puted re­ports that the equip­ment was in­tended as a show of force to­ward Rus­sia. One of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions, said the equip­ment would com­prise “strictly train­ing ma­te­ri­als.”

Even so, the de­ci­sion could have the ef­fect of rais­ing the ante in the West’s in­creas­ingly hos­tile en­gage­ments with Putin.

An­drejs Pilde­gov­ics, Latvia’s state sec­re­tary for for­eign af­fairs, stopped short of con­firm­ing con­crete U.S. plans for a de­ploy­ment but said, “We are not talk­ing about any­thing which will match the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of what the other side has.”

“There is dis­cus­sion about the need for ad­di­tional as­sets. To save money, to save time, and to use for mil­i­tary drills,” he said.

“We are not talk­ing about brigades, we are not talk­ing about bal­lis­tic mis­siles, we are talk­ing about cred­i­ble de­fense, cred­i­ble de­ter­rence,” he said.

LECH MUSZYNSKI/EURO­PEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

U.S. of­fi­cials said no de­ci­sion has been made on whether to move equip­ment into Eastern Europe, but Latvia’s for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter im­plied that such a move would save money and fa­cil­i­tate mil­i­tary drills. At left, mem­bers of the Pol­ish mil­i­tary en­gage in a NATO ex­er­cise.

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