bne IntelliNews -
The US is planning to station tanks and heavy weapons in the Baltics, Poland and other EU member states to the east as it seeks to reassure Nato countries on Russia's doorstep that the coalition will back them up.
Washington could announce agreements on storing the equipment in the region later this month, a US defence official said on June 13. The following day, the Polish defence ministry confirmed it is in negotiations over the plan. According to The New York Times, the equipment would be stationed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary.
The reports will be hugely welcomed in the region, although some want to see a full US military presence. Hawks in Vilnius and Warsaw have regularly warned over the past 18 months of what they see as Russia's renewed imperialism, with the Baltic states and their large ethnic Russian populations on the frontline. Russian officials have long claimed the rights of minorities in the region are under threat.
However, a recent poll suggested the European public would not be keen to respond with military action should Moscow attack one of the small states in their eastern neighbourhood. That has raised questions over Nato willingness to act on the coalition's 'Article 5' security guarantee.
Stationing the tanks in the region would be part of plans agreed in February to establish a rapid reaction unit known as 'Spearhead Force'. Those decisions were part of the alliance's wider effort to respond to recent "security challenges" in Eastern Europe, Middle East and North Africa.
Spearhead Force will be the "centrepiece" of the current Nato Response Force (NRF) and will consist of a land brigade of about 5,000 troops supported by air, sea and special forces. It will be backed by two more brigades in case of a "major crisis." It will rely on France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom to provide the main elements of the force.
Poland and the Baltic states have requested the stationing of permanent Nato forces, according to reports last month. The Baltic states would like to see a Nato brigade - typically 3,000-5,000 troops - stationed in the region. Poland would welcome up to two brigades.
The move marks "a very meaningful policy shift," Nato's former supreme commander in Europe, James Stavridis told The New York Times. "It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full time on the ground, of course," the retired admiral said.
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