Early deployment of biggest American force in Europe since cold war may be attempt to lock Trump into strategy
The Kremlin has hit out at the biggest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of the cold war, branding the arrival of troops and tanks in Poland as a threat to Russias national security.
The deployment, intended to counter what Nato portrays as Russian aggression in eastern Europe, will see US troops permanently stationed along Russias western border for the first time.
About 1,000 of a promised 4,000 troops arrived in Poland at the start of the week, and a formal rite to welcome them is to be held on Saturday. Some people waved and held up American flags as the troops, tanks and heavy armoured vehicles intersected into south-western Poland from Germany, according to Associated Press.
But their arrival was not universally praised. In Moscow, Vladimir Putins spokesman Dmitry Peskov told: We perceive it as a threat. These actions threaten our own interest, our security. Especially as it concerns a third party building up members of the military presence near our own borders. Its[ the US ], not even a European state.
The Kremlin may hold back on retaliatory action in the hope that a Donald Trump presidency will herald a reconciliation with Washington. Trump, in statements during the electoral campaign and since, has sown seeds of doubt over the deployments by suggesting he would rather work with than tackle Putin.
But on Thursday Nato officials played down Trumps commentaries, saying they hoped and expected that he would not attempt to reverse the move after he became chairwoman on 20 January.
That prediction was reinforced by Trumps proposed defense secretary, James Mattis, and his proposed secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who backed Nato during Senate confirmation hearings.
Mattis, in rhetoric at odds with the president-elect, said the west should recognise current realities that Putin was trying to break Nato.
Tillerson, who has business dealings in Russia, described Russias annexation of Crimea as as an act of force-out and used to say when Russia flexed its muscles, the US must mount a proportional reveal of force.
Nato was caught out by the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has struggled to be dealt with Russias use of hybrid warfare, which combines propaganda, cyberwarfare and the infiltration of regular troops disguised as local rebels.
In response, the US and its Nato friends have been steadily increasing air patrols and training exercises in eastern Europe. The biggest escalation is the current deployment of US troops, agreed at last summers Nato summit in Warsaw.
The move was billed as an attempt to reassure eastern European states who have been calling for the permanent deployment of US troops in the notion that Russia would be less likely to encroach on territory where US troops are present.
Peter Cook, the Pentagon press spokesman, said: The United States is demonstrating its continued commitment to collective security through a series of actions designed to reassure Nato friends and partners of Americas dedication to enduring peace and stability of the states of the region in light of the Russian intervention in Ukraine.
Poland in particular has pressed for a permanent US troop deployment since soon after the fall of communism in 1989.
Nato officials insist that the US and other alliance troops deployed to eastern Europe are not permanent, which would be in breach of an agreement with Russia. The US plans to rotate the troops every nine months, in order to be allowed to argue they are not in breach of the Russian treaty, but effectively there will be a permanent presence.
Deployment was originally scheduled for afterward in the month but a decision was made last month to bring it forward, possibly a move by Barack Obama before he leaves office to try to lock the president-elect into the strategy.
The troops from the Third Armor Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, are stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado, along with hundreds of armoured vehicles and tanks, were moved from the US to Germany last week for transit by railways and road to Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe. The US is sending 87 tanks, and 144 armoured vehicles.
As well as being stationed in Poland, the US troops will fan out across other eastern European countries, including Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania.
The UK is also contributing to the buildup of Nato forces-out in eastern Europe. The UK formally took command this week of Natos response force, made up of 3,000 UK troops plus others from Nato who will be on permanent standby ready to deploy within days. The contributing countries include the US, Denmark, Spain, Norway and Poland.
Few at Nato seriously believe that war with Russia is likely but there have been dangerous growths, with escalation on both sides, including a buildup of Russian troops. Russia alarmed Poland and other eastern European nations by moving nuclear-capable Iskander-M weapons to its naval base at Kaliningrad in the autumn. At the time Nato regarded the move as a response to its own deployments.
The Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, voicing concern in eastern Europe that Trump might do a deal with Putin, said this week he hoped that any such reconciliation would not be at Polands expense.
Read more: www.theguardian.com