The U.S. Department of Defense announced on Tuesday that it is indeed planning to bring tanks and other heavy weaponry to Russia's doorstep, in a move observers say is likely to further stoke Cold War tensions as NATO regional war games commence.
Speaking in Tallinn, Estonia, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the Pentagon would be fortifying Baltic states—Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia—as well as Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland each with a military arsenal large enough to support 150 to 750 troops.
"The U.S. decision to stage heavy equipment closer to Russia's borders aims to speed deployment of rotating U.S. forces," Reuters reports.
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Rumors of the pending mobilization were first reported earlier this month when anonymous military officials revealed the plan to pre-position 250 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled howitzers, in a bid to "reassure" NATO countries and likely intimidate Russia amidst growing regional tensions.
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Russian defense ministry official General Yuri Yakubov said last week that such a move would be interpreted as a clear provocation from the U.S. "If heavy U.S. military equipment, including tanks, artillery batteries and other equipment really does turn up in countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, that will be the most aggressive step by the Pentagon and NATO since the Cold War," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
During his European trip this week, Carter also announced that the U.S. would be providing "intelligence and surveillance capabilities, special operations forces, logistics, transport aircraft, and a range of weapons support that could include bombers, fighters and ship-based missiles" to NATO's new "rapid reaction force."
According to anonymous officials, the force, which would be activated in the event of a regional "crisis," may also include the mobilization of U.S. troops.
No final decisions have been made on the number of troops that could participate, or where they could come from.
The officials said many of the forces could come from among the 65,000 U.S. military personnel already stationed in Europe.
But the plan could result in a temporary increase in U.S. forces in Europe in the event of a crisis, said U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss details of the agreement publicly.
No U.S. troops or equipment will move immediately, but instead they would be made available within 48-72 hours if requested, and approved by American leaders, in response to a crisis.
The announcements come as Eastern European NATO countries began a series of months-long military exercises designed to "demonstrate their readiness to confront Russia." Later this week, Carter is expected to meet with European defense ministers in Brussels to discuss the military escalation.