US begins the military encirclement of Russia

The US is to deploy heavy weapons – including tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery – in a number of European nations, amid Nato concerns over Russia’s role in Ukraine.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the equipment would be placed in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.
Nato has vowed to boost military might in the east as ties with Russia have soured.
Russia has condemned the new Nato and US moves.
Responding earlier to reports of the planned deployment, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Nato of “coming to our borders”.
On a visit to the Estonian capital, Tallinn, Mr Carter said each set of equipment would be enough either for a military company, or about 150 soldiers, or a battalion – roughly 750 soldiers.
Much of the equipment was already in Europe, officials said.
In addition to the six nations, Germany will also take part in the expanded military effort, but already has the US materiel.
Mr Carter said several European countries had agreed to host the new deployment
Mr Carter said the equipment would be moved around the region to help forces in Europe train better and be more mobile.
“We intend to move those equipment sets around as exercises move around,” he said. “They’re not static.”
According to a fact-sheet provided by the US military, the deployment would include 250 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzer artillery guns.
Analysis: BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus
Mr Carter’s announcement is the latest in a battery of measures intended to reassure Nato allies in the face of a resurgent Russia.
In 2013, the last US tanks left Europe – part of the draw-down at the end of the Cold War. About a year later, small numbers were sent back to a training range in Germany, but now much more significant numbers of armoured vehicles are being deployed.
In an effort to spread the reassurance as widely as possible, the tanks and other combat vehicles will go to seven countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. This may be intended to send a signal to Moscow as well; penny packets of vehicles dispersed to a number of countries may look less threatening than a full armoured brigade in a single location.
The US has also pledged intelligence, logistical and a range of other support to Nato’s new very-high-readiness reaction force. But the message from Washington is clear. It still expects its Nato allies to take on their share of bolstering the alliance’s defences.
A Russian defence ministry official, quoted by Reuters news agency, said the placement of weapons in Nato states along the border would be the most aggressive US act since the Cold War.
Earlier this week, Mr Carter said the US would contribute weapons, aircraft and personnel to a new Nato rapid-reaction force.
Nato announced the formation of the force last year, amid concern over the potential threat from Russia and from Islamic State rebels in the Middle East.
Ties between Nato and Russia have been strained since conflict erupted in Ukraine last year.
The Ukrainian government, Western leaders and Nato say there is clear evidence that Russia is aiding the rebels in eastern Ukraine with heavy weapons and soldiers. Independent experts echo that accusation.
Moscow denies it, insisting that any Russians serving with the rebels are “volunteers”.


Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter confirmed plans to position heavy American tanks and other weaponry in the Baltics and Eastern Europe for the first time. The plan has prompted unease in some quarters ahead of the NATO defense ministers’ meetings, and strong protests from Moscow that coincided with an announcement by President Vladimir V. Putin that he was bolstering Russia’s arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons.
Revising Strategies
Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and its role in the war in eastern Ukraine, has already resulted in what NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, recently called “the biggest reinforcement of NATO forces since the end of the Cold War.”
It has involved a marked increase in training rotations on territory of the newer NATO allies in the east, and increased patrols of the air and seas from the Baltic to the Black Sea intended to counter an increase of patrols by Russian forces around NATO’s periphery.
Most of those are temporary deployments. But in February, NATO announced that it would set up six new command units within the Eastern allies and create a 5,000-strong rapid reaction “spearhead” force.
With the leaders of NATO’s 28 members scheduled to gather in Warsaw for an important summit meeting next year, the alliance is now considering what other measures are needed to adjust its forces, to increase spending that had plummeted as part of a “peace dividend,” and to revisit NATO’s military strategy and planning.
“During the Cold War, we had everything there in the neighborhood we needed to respond,” said Julianne Smith, a former defense and White House official who is now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “It’s all atrophied. We haven’t gone through the muscle movements of a conventional attack in Europe for decades.”
NATO’s steps, and its deliberations over future ones, have exposed internal tensions within the alliance over the extent of the threat Mr. Putin’s Russia poses. That, in turn, has colored the debate over how vigorously the allies should prepare.
Some view the threat as imminent, while others view Russia as less a threat than the instability, the flood of migrants and the rise of extremism emanating from North Africa. A recent poll suggested that residents in some member nations were far from committed to the notion of going to war to protect the other NATO allies — let alone Ukraine.
NATO’s response to the events in Ukraine has required a shift in strategic thinking as profound as the one that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the alliance’s main adversary suddenly no longer existed. For years, the Russia that emerged from the Soviet ruins seemed destined to be a partner if not an ally, something Mr. Putin himself did not rule out when he first came to office in 2000.
“I don’t think we’re in the Cold War again — yet,” said James G. Stavridis, the retired admiral and NATO military commander, now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, who served on a destroyer as a “thorough seagoing cold warrior” when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
He added, however, “I can kind of see it from here.”
While some do not rule out a conventional confrontation — something Mr. Putin himself rejected as “insane” — others point to the potential threats shrouded in subterfuge and subversion, much like Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its continuing support for ethnic Russians in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives.
A confidential assessment of the risk of Russia destabilizing the Baltic States is expected to be presented at the NATO meetings this week. But the potential for such an attack has implicitly been the focus of much of the training and planning going on in places like this.
In private and in public, some officials and commanders argue that much more is needed to reverse two decades of policy, particularly to shore up an eastern flank that to many, especially here in the Baltics, feels gravely exposed to a Russian attack.
Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, said that NATO had to undertake a “strategic adaptation” that accounted for the fact that Russia’s hostility toward the alliance was “a change in climate and not a summer storm.” It is time, he said, to consider significant deployments of heavy weapons in Eastern Europe, brushing
aside the worry that such a move would provoke Russia. “I think the caution expressed by some of our European allies is excessive,” Mr.
Siemoniak said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington in May.
Some believe that stoking divisions among the allies is simply another of the tactics that Mr. Putin has employed.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of United States Army forces in Europe, said in an interview, “I am sure they want to create doubts in the minds of some members of the alliance that the other 27 members won’t be there for them.”
The rising tensions between NATO and Russia coincide with a sharp decline in the United States military presence in Europe: to 64,000 troops now, including just 27,000 soldiers, from more than 400,000 at the height of the Cold War. Other nations’ militaries have shrunk, too. Britain now has a smaller army than during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century.
The notion of a more robust NATO has encountered inertia that has built over the last two decades. The “peace dividend” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union could prove hard to reverse, said David Ochmanek, a former senior Pentagon official who is a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation.
NATO’s militaries drew down so precipitously that it has become a regular challenge for members to maintain military spending at 2 percent of gross domestic product, a level considered minimal for effective defense.
At the same time, few of the NATO allies are looking to increase military spending significantly. “Nobody in any military establishment is looking for more bills to pay right now,” Mr. Ochmanek said.
A Message of Solidarity
Even before the annexation of Crimea, NATO had watched Russia warily.
“NATO has reduced defense spending over a long period of time, especially European NATO allies,” Mr. Stoltenberg said in an interview in Washington in May. “Russia has increased substantially. So they have modernized their forces. They have increased their capacity. And they are exercising more. And they are also now starting to use nuclear rhetoric, nuclear exercises and nuclear operations as part of their nuclear posture. This is destabilizing.”
While American officials say that exercises like the one at this former Soviet tank base are mainly to allow NATO and Baltic States to hone their training together, they are also intended to send a strong message of solidarity. More than 6,000 troops from 14 allied nations — three times the number of
soldiers that joined the same exercise two years ago, before Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine — conducted the annual Saber Strike training exercise in the Baltics and Poland that ended Friday.
On a brilliant, sunny day this month, 150 Latvian infantry members fought across a sandy pine barren to seize locations defended by Atropians, a fictional foe played by Gurkha soldiers of the British Army. Both sides traded simulated artillery and rocket fire, before the Latvians dashed from the woods and used smoke screens as cover to seize their targets. The A-10 attack planes roared overhead. But what really snapped back the necks of Baltic and other European observers was the B-52 bomber, on call for any additional strikes.
Latvia’s defense chief, Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, looked up admiringly at the warplanes and dismissed any suggestion that a NATO exercise with B-52s might provoke the Russians, as some European officials have complained. “Our soldiers must be ready to train on an international level,” he said.
For a United States military that has spent nearly two decades fighting insurgencies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the tensions with Russia have young soldiers, many born after the Soviet Union collapsed, learning new skills and brushing up on an old adversary.
“It’s not lost on me or my soldiers where we’re operating,” said Lt. Col. Chad Chalfont, an Army battalion commander training at a former Soviet base in Rukla, Lithuania.
Colonel Chalfont, whose father served as an Air Force officer in an underground nuclear missile silo during the Cold War, said American and Lithuanian troops drilled together on mundane but critical tasks like talking on the same radio frequency. Lithuanian infantry troops also learn more complex skills, like operating together with American battle tanks for the first time in dense pine forests.
The threat to the Baltic nations, at least in theory, is acute. For the Pentagon, Mr. Ochmanek of RAND has run war games trying to anticipate how to defend the Baltics in particular, the most immediate concern for the alliance. “It’s not realistic to think they could defend themselves against a determined Russian attack,” he said.
There is a hope that deterrence will suffice to prevent Russia from moving, but many fear that Mr. Putin’s government could seek to undermine the allies by subterfuge, as Russia did in Crimea and is doing in Ukraine. More likely than any ground attack from Russian troops, NATO officials say,
would be some kind of cyberstrike or information warfare assault, two of the critical components of a hybrid warfare style that is central to a new Russian military strategy unveiled in 2013 by Russia’s chief of the general staff, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov.
The doctrine explicitly acknowledged the use of “military means of a concealed character, including carrying out actions of informational conflict and the actions of special operations forces.”
For those on NATO’s front lines, the doctrine appears all too real. This month, unknown hackers targeted the website of the Lithuanian Army leadership, posting false information about NATO exercises in the Baltics and Poland, a Lithuanian Defense Ministry spokesman said.
Lithuanian officials said the false messages included a report that the NATO exercise was a pretext for a possible annexation of the Russian region of Kaliningrad, which lies between Lithuania and Poland.
All of this is on NATO’s mind as it takes interim measures to deal with the threat.
Asked what steps his military would take if Russian “little green men” tried to sneak across his border, General Terras, Estonia’s chief of defense, said bluntly, “We will shoot them.”

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