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