Less than a week after the US defense secretary announced a major boost in spending on the Pentagon's activities in Europe, rumors have surfaced that NATO plans to expand its military presence in Poland and the Baltic states in a move that, as Russia has repeatedly warned, will further undermine regional peace and security.
The initiative was outlined on Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources in the US and NATO. The official announcement is expected to come next week following a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
"Officials said the size of the force and precise national contributions won't be determined until later this year. But they said defense ministers are likely to approve a mission to oversee and enlarge what are currently bilateral deployments to Poland and the Baltic States," Julian E. Barnes noted.
Earlier this week, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the DoD plans to request $3.4 billion for fiscal year 2017 (up from $789 million for the current budget year) to reinforce its military presence close to Russia's western borders. The funding will help the US to rotate more troops in the region, conduct more war games and preposition additional military hardware.
These moves, according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, "create grounds to implement military plans against Russia and take practical steps to push military infrastructure closer to Russia's borders." Zakharova described the manner in which these initiatives are carried out as "aggressive" and added that NATO uses a non-existent threat from Russia as a pretext.
Russia will respond with "fitting political, diplomatic and military" measures to Washington and NATO's "unfriendly" attempts "to exert pressure" on Moscow, Zakharova noted.
The United States and its partners in NATO have increased their military presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics following the outbreak of a civil war in Ukraine, which the West largely blames on Russia. Moscow has repeatedly said that it is not a party to the conflict and does not pose a threat to anyone.
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