MOSCOW/WARSAW – A plan by Washington to station tanks and heavy weapons in NATO states on Russia’s border would be the most aggressive U.S. act since the Cold War, and Moscow would retaliate by beefing up its own forces, a Russian defense official said on Monday.
The United States is offering to store military equipment on allies’ territory in eastern Europe, a proposal aimed at reassuring governments worried that after the conflict in Ukraine, they could be the Kremlin’s next target.
Poland and the Baltic states, where officials say privately they have been frustrated the NATO alliance has not taken more decisive steps to deter Russia, welcomed the decision by Washington to take the lead.
But others in the region were more cautious, fearing their countries could be caught in the middle of a new arms race between Russia and the United States.
“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,” Russian defense ministry official General Yuri Yakubov said.
“Russia will have no option but to build up its forces and resources on the Western strategic front,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
He said the Russian response was likely to include speeding up the deployment of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave bordered by Poland and Lithuania, and beefing up Russian forces in ex-Soviet Belarus.
“Our hands are completely free to organize retaliatory steps to strengthen our Western frontiers,” Yakubov said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said: “We hope that reason will prevail and the situation in Europe will be prevented from sliding into a new military confrontation which may have dangerous consequences.”
The Pentagon said on Monday the U.S. military was in the process of deciding where to store a battalion’s worth of military equipment in Europe. The decision is part of a long-term effort to maintain equipment for a heavy brigade in the region to facilitate U.S. rotational training with NATO allies.
“This is purely positioning of equipment to better facilitate our ability to conduct training,” said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, noting that two battalions of equipment already was stored there.
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