The United States plans to store heavy military equipment in the Baltics and Eastern European nations to reassure allies made uneasy by Russian intervention in Ukraine, and to deter further aggression, a senior U.S. official said on Saturday.
Capt. Greg Hicks, a military spokesman, said that Gen. Philip 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 Carter. “The decision rests with [Carter],” Hicks said.
Hicks declined to characterize Breedlove’s recommendation. But officials, speaking on 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 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 manoeuvres 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 Barack 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 the equipment was intended as a show of force toward Russia. One official, speaking on 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 increasing hostile engagement 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 defence, credible deterrence,” he said.
As it now stood, the Times said, the proposal envisaged that “a company’s worth of equipment, enough for about 150 soldiers, would be stored in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Enough for a company or possibly a battalion, or about 750 soldiers, would be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary.”