U.S. military officials announced Wednesday plans to beef up numbers of American troops and equipment in Eastern Europe to counter what the Pentagon described as "an aggressive Russia."
It comes just weeks after Russia's foreign minister warned that NATO's military build-up near Russia's borders is "counterproductive and dangerous," and that the military alliance's members "are whipping up 'Russia's threat' myth."
Part of the plan was already revealed by the Obama administration last month.
U.S. European Command said in a statement Wednesday that starting in February 2017, there will be continuous rotations of three Army combat teams and upgraded equipment in Europe. "That equipment would allow for the rapid deployment of ground forces," Military Times reports.
The Guardian notes that the plan marks a reversal of
Barack Obama’s reduction of forces after concluding that Russian aggression poses an enduring threat to continental stability.
The shift in course is the latest in a series of small restorations of the military status quo before Obama, suggesting that senior officers have already begun to look past his presidency.
"This is a big step in enhancing the Army's rotational presence and increasing their combat equipment in Europe," U.S. European Command head Gen. Philip Breedlove stated. "This Army implementation plan continues to demonstrate our strong and balanced approach to reassuring our NATO allies and partners in the wake of an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. This means our allies and partners will see more capability—they will see a more frequent presence of an armored brigade with more modernized equipment in their countries."
The Wall Street Journal described it as "the first such deployment since the end of the Cold War."
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From the Journal's reporting on Wednesday:
The U.S. has been intermittently rotating about 4,200 troops in and out of Europe since 2014, on top of the roughly 62,000 U.S. military personnel assigned permanently on the continent.
The Pentagon now aims to rotate in an Army armored brigade each year and divide the rotational force of 4,200 among six eastern members—Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
The New York Times reported last month:
Under a 1997 agreement known as the NATO-Russia Founding Act, both sides pledged not to station large numbers of troops along their respective borders.
Administration officials said they were confident that the new deployments would not be seen as breaching that agreement. In any event, Poland and the Baltic States argue that Russia’s incursion in Ukraine was a clear violation of the act, and that NATO should no longer abide by it.
Russia's Permanent Representative to NATO Alexander Grushko addressed the new development on Rossiya 24 TV on Wednesday, according to Russian news agency Tass, saying, "Cooperation will be possible only when NATO countries start realizing that the policy of confrontation contradicts their own national interests."
The plan still needs approval from U.S. Congress.