LITHUANIA and Poland are preparing to host US heavy arms as part of an American plan that could see the US station military equipment in Central and Eastern Europe for the first time despite opposition from Russia.
Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s defence minister, said his country was in talks with the US government to station equipment on Polish soil as a “step to increase the US presence in Poland and the region” and that he expected a decision within weeks.
“Russia will have no option but to build up its forces”General Yuri Yakubov
“We have been working for a while on increasing the American military presence in Poland and across the eastern flank of Nato,” he added.
The equipment could include Abrams main battle tanks, Bradley armoured fighting vehicles and enough hardware to supply around 5,000 troops.
Juozas Olekas, his Lithuanian counterpart, said work preparing Lithuania’s military infrastructure to accommodate the American equipment would soon be finished.
If it goes ahead, the deployment will be the first time the US has positioned military hardware on a permanent basis in the old Warsaw Pact countries, and it could encounter strong opposition from Moscow.
“If heavy US 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,” said General Yuri Yakubov, a Russian defence ministry official.
“Russia will have no option but to build up its forces and resources on the Western strategic front. Our hands are completely free to organise retaliatory steps to strengthen our Western frontiers.”
Russia could speed up the deployment of Iskander missiles, which can carry a nuclear warhead, in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad that borders both Lithuania and Poland, he added.
In the past, Russia has opposed any such step, claiming that it would violate tacit agreements struck between Moscow and the West in the early 1990s prohibiting the stationing of Nato forces in Central and Eastern Europe, although Western countries deny any such agreements were struck.
Linas Linkevicius, the Lithuanian foreign minister, said the US plans were not an aggressive act against Russia but were just “security enhancements” for his country, and that Lithuanians and the world should understand that.
Poland welcomed the possibility of a US military presence.
“This all adds up to a growing presence of US forces in Poland, and heavy equipment is significant, as it’s durable,” said Mr Siemoniak. “If need be it can be here for years, or even decades. This is not an ad-hoc response to a crisis
“It’s relatively easy to transfer troops, but it will be good to have material close to the danger zones.”
Since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, and its role in the war in Ukraine, countries on Nato’s eastern flank have been calling for a greater Western military presence in their region. The West has sent troops on training exercises and deployed hardware on a temporary, or rotating, basis but so far has stopped short of stationing anything on a permanent basis.
The lack of a tangible presence has fuelled fears in Central and Eastern Europe that the West has failed to ensure security.
Last week, John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, described the number of American troops in the Baltic states as “a joke” and added that regional leaders did not regard the West’s commitment to their security as being as “clear as it needs to be”.