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 ceremony 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 crossed into south-western Poland from Germany, according to Associated Press.
But their arrival was not universally applauded. 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 its military presence near our own borders. Its[ the US ], not even a European state.
The Kremlin may hold back on retaliatory action in the said he hoped that a Donald Trump presidency will herald a rapprochement with Washington. Trump, in remarks during the election campaign and since, has sown seeds of doubt over the deployments by indicating he would rather work with than confront Putin.
But on Thursday Nato officials played down Trumps comments, saying they hoped and expected that he would not attempt to reverse the move after he became chairperson 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 the reality 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 and said that when Russia flexed its muscles, the US must mount a proportional present of force.
Nato was caught out by the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has struggled to cope 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 summertimes Nato summit in Warsaw.
The move was billed as an attempt to reassure eastern European countries 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, told: 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 in 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, so it can 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 constructed 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 rail 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 in eastern Europe. The UK formally took command the coming 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 developments, with escalation on both sides, including a buildup of Russian troops. Russia alarmed Poland and other eastern European countries 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