News over the weekend that the U.S. is considering the storage of heavy weaponry in Eastern Europe prompted promises of retaliatory military build-up from the Russian government on Monday. The New York Times reported that the U.S. was considering the shipment of enough tanks, fighting vehicles, and other heavy equipment to outfit a full Army brigade.
The equipment would not be accompanied by soldiers, but would be left in place in case an emergency required the rapid deployment of U.S. troops somewhere in Eastern Europe. The obvious potential emergency being considered here is further Russian aggression against its neighbors to the West.
Russia last year invaded and illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and continues to support armed rebels in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas.
The potential deployment of U.S. troops was met with silence by Russian President Vladimir Putin. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that because there had been no official statement from the Obama administration confirming that such a deployment was being considered, the Kremlin would have no comment.
However, by Monday the Russian Foreign Ministry was criticizing the move as aggressive and potentially destabilizing. The government-run Interfax news service quoted General Yuri Yakubov, a foreign ministry official, as saying: “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.”
He said Russia would have “no option” other than to strengthen its military forces on its Western border and possibly speed up the deployment of the short-range ballistic Iskander missile systems to Kaliningrad, a small piece of Russian territory detached from the rest of the country, and sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
“Our hands are completely free to organize retaliatory steps to strengthen our Western frontiers,” he said.
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