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.
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.
In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries, American and allied officials say.
The proposal, if approved, would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence.
The amount of equipment included in the planning is small compared with what Russia could bring to bear against the NATO nations on or near its borders, but it would serve as a credible sign of American commitment, acting as a deterrent the way that the Berlin Brigade did after the Berlin Wall crisis in 1961.
The Pentagon’s proposal still requires approval by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and the White House. And political hurdles remain, as the significance of the potential step has stirred concern among some NATO allies about Russia’s reaction to a buildup of equipment.
NATO expansion talks with Finland, Macedonia and Montenegro
Last week, Finland's new government announced that it will explore the possibility of NATO membership. While wariness is still evident in Finland's public and membership likely a ways off, the government's clear focus on NATO underscores the serious threat it faces from an aggressive Russia.
Finland boasts a reserve size of 900,000 but its standing armed forces number just 35,000.
The former Yugoslav republics of Macedonia and Montenegro should be invited to join NATO when it holds its next summit in Warsaw in 2016, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said Friday.
The Warsaw summit will take place on July 8-9, 2016.