US military to put armor on the ground in Baltics, Eastern Europe

The US military will be sending tanks and armored fighting vehicles to NATO-member countries that border Russia.

Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen of Germany and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter address a news conference during a visit to the NATO Response Force (NRF) Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) unit in Munetser, Germany on June 22, 2015.

The US military will be sending enough equipment to supply a typical army unit to allied countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe in response to Russian actions in the Ukraine, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday, during his week-long trip to Europe, CNN reported.

The equipment, which includes dozens of tanks, Bradley armored fighting vehicles, and self-propelled howitzers, will be positioned in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, Carter announced at a press conference with US allies in Estonia.

The equipment will be used in training exercises by NATO troops and will not involve US soldiers.

“We're sending a message of assurance to our NATO allies. We have obligations, under the NATO treaty, to defend those countries if attacked,” said retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit, the former military assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, to CNN. “I think those countries in the region are going to be welcoming the positioning of these – this equipment into their countries."

The contribution of tanks and armored vehicles from the US comes at a time of international debate over how rigorously NATO allies and the region should prepare to defend against an increasingly combative Russia.

A survey by Pew Research Center suggests that the citizens of NATO’s member nations are divided on how NATO might intervene if Russia takes action in the Baltic region and Eastern Europe.

“At least half of Germans, French and Italians say their country should not use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia,” the Pew Research Center found in a recent survey, which is based on interviews in 10 nations, according to The New York Times. Americans and Canadians, Pew says, were the only nationalities surveyed in which more than half of those polled believed that their country should take military action if Russia attacked a NATO ally.

Such mixed public sentiment is likely unsettling to NATO members in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, who see what is happening in Eastern Ukraine where more than 6,000 people have been killed in fighting between ethnic Russians, supported by Russia, and Ukraine, and wonder what may be coming next from the Kremlin.

“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, to The New York Times. “It’s all atrophied. We haven’t gone through the muscle movements of a conventional attack in Europe for decades.”

Secretary Carter will conclude his tour of NATO capitals in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, where NATO leaders plan to debate how to respond to the rising tension in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.  

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