The specter of Russian aggression in Europe has prompted the Pentagon to draw up a proposal to ship heavy weaponry and tanks for the 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in the Baltic region and Eastern Europe.
The proposal is still in draft stage and requires approval from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the White House, The New York Times reports. If it elects to move forward, the Pentagon will begin shipping equipment to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, with Poland, Romania and Bulgaria potentially receiving up to a battalion's worth of military gear.
"Over the last few years, the United States military has increased the pre-positioning of equipment for training and exercises with our NATO allies and partners," Col. Steve Warren told Reuters.
"The U.S. military continues to review the best location to store these materials in consultation with our allies," he added. "At this time, we have made no decision about if or when to move to this equipment."
With U.S. presence close and heavily equipped, Russia may think twice before deciding to re-engage in Ukraine. While heavy equipment isn't the same as full-time troop presence, the idea is to provide some amount of security to U.S. allies who have expressed trepidation about Russia's designs on former Soviet satellite states. Still, the equipment is still nothing compared to what Moscow could muster in the event of an invasion.
"We need the prepositioned equipment because if something happens, we'll need additional armaments, equipment and ammunition," Raimonds Vejonis, Latvia's minister of defense, told The New York Times.
This isn't the first time the Pentagon has mulled moving equipment over to Eastern Europe, but officials rejected previous attempts for fear that such a move would be interpreted as a violation of the 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia. Others, however, have pointed out that the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act is not in any sense legally binding and simply expressed current political intentions.
In response to questions on whether Russia would attack NATO, President Vladimir Putin brushed off worries, saying that "only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO. I think some countries are simply taking advantage of people's fears with regard to Russia."
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