Friday 19 January 2018

US will station tanks in eastern Europe as a bulwark against Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Matthew Holehouse in Brussels

The United States will place 250 tanks, artillery pieces and fighting vehicles in seven eastern European countries as a bulwark against Russian aggression, it was confirmed today.

US defence secretary Ash Carter said Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland would host equipment in order to reassure Nato countries alarmed by Russian action in Ukraine.

"We will temporarily stage one armoured brigade combat team's vehicles and associated equipment in countries in central and eastern Europe," Mr Carter said at a joint press conference with three Baltic defence ministers.

After Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region last year, Nato leaders agreed to step up exercises and rotations of forces through Nato allies in eastern Europe as well as storing hardware there for use in an emergency.

Reports of the deployment triggered a furious response from Moscow earlier this week, and came after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would add 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal.

The US equipment will include 250 tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers.

The amount of equipment that would be temporarily stored in each country will be enough to supply either a company, of around 150 soldiers, or a battalion, of approximately 750 soldiers.

Nato, the defence alliance, is in the process of building six new bases in eastern Europe to host rapid-response forces that are capable of reacting within three days to any threat. Seven states have promised to contribute soldiers to the rapid-reaction force on a rolling basis.

Since the Minsk negotiations committed Russia to withdrawing from Ukraine in February, more than 1,000 tanks, surface-to-air missile systems and other heavy weapons have crossed the border, according to Nato sources.

Meeting in Brussels tomorrow, defence ministers will discuss how the alliance can respond to "hybrid warfare", of the kind seen in Ukraine, in which Russian-tied separatists known as "little green men" appeared to be acting independently of Moscow.

They believe that a Russian attack on a Nato member could include agitation by Russian-speaking minorities, subversive campaigns by NGOs, a sustained pro-Russian media campaign and cyber attacks.

States are also at risk from corrupt officials who could be "bought" by Moscow and by Russia buying up strategic sites such as ports, Nato officials fear. At dinner tomorrow, officials will discuss with the EU's Federica Mogherini how to combat Russian propaganda and develop new intelligence networks to monitor attempts at subversion by Moscow.

Entirely legal activities, such as running a pro-Moscow TV station, could become a broader assault on a country that would require a Nato response under Article Five of the Treaty, sources said. A final strategy is expected in October.

Mr Carter also announced plans yesterday to work with an Estonia-based Nato cyber centre to help allies develop cyber defence strategies and critical infrastructure protection planning.

Meanwhile, military spending by Nato countries is set to fall again this year in real terms despite increased tensions with Russia and a pledge by alliance leaders last year to halt falls in defence budgets, Nato figures released on Monday showed.

The figures showed defence spending by the 28 members of the alliance is set to fall by 1.5pc in real terms this year after a 3.9pc fall in 2014.

The fall comes at a time when tension between Nato and Russia is running high over the Ukraine conflict. Russia has sharply raised its defence spending over the past decade.

It also comes in spite of a pledge by Nato leaders, jolted by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region last September, to stop cutting military spending and move towards the alliance's target of spending 2pc of their economic output on defence within a decade.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said 18 allies were set to raise defence spending this year in real terms, but the total was lower, continuing a trend of declining military spending, especially by European Nato allies.

"So we need to redouble our efforts to reverse this trend," he added. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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