The Pentagon is planning to send heavy military equipment to be stationed in Eastern Europe in an effort to deter Russian aggression in the Baltic region. The strategy, which would mark the first time since the Cold War that the Pentagon stationed heavy equipment in the former Soviet Bloc region, still needs to be approved by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (pictured) and President Barack Obama. Photo: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / U.S. Department of Defense
RIGA, Latvia, June 13 (UPI) -- In a move designed to temper Russia's perceived aggression in Eastern Europe, the Pentagon wants to send enough military equipment there to supply 5,000 troops on the ground, U.S. and allied officials reportedly said.
The equipment would include about 1,200 vehicles -- including about 250 M1-A2 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and armored howitzers, the New York Times reported Saturday, citing a senior military official.
If the Defense proposal is approved, it would mark the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that the U.S. military places heavy equipment in the former Eastern Bloc region.
Under the current plan, some of the equipment would be stored in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. More military hardware would be stored in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary, sources said.
The Pentagon's plan is part of an ongoing conflict between Moscow and Western coalition nations that was sparked by Russia's annexation of Crimea last year -- and further fueled by a war in eastern Ukraine between Kiev and pro-Kremlin forces.
Some military analysts believe the aggression is at the core of a desire by Russian President Vladimir Putin to return his nation to a standing seen during the Soviet glory years.
The Pentagon has been reluctant to station heavy military equipment in the Baltic region for years, largely because of Washington's intention to maintain a positive relationship with Moscow. The Kremlin's recent activities, however, have substantially weakened those intentions.
In addition to acting as a deterrent from further escalation, the small military build-up is also a clear message of support to U.S. allies in the Baltic states -- a strategy previously used by Washington during the 1961 Berlin Wall Crisis, when Soviet aggression was feared in Germany. A deployment of troops, called the Berlin Brigade, remained there until President Bill Clinton deactivated the regiment in 1994.
The Pentagon also used the strategy in Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion in 1990.
"This is a very meaningful shift in policy," former NATO commander James G. Stavridis said in the Times report. "It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full-time on the ground."
"We need the prepositioned equipment because if something happens, we'll need additional armaments, equipment and ammunition," Latvia's minister of defense, Raimonds Vejonis, said in the Times report. "If something happens, we can't wait days or weeks for more equipment ... We need to react immediately."
Russia has denied military presence in Ukraine, although many analysts claim that is a lie. Further, pro-Russian rebels are keeping up the fight within Ukraine's borders and U.S. officials believe Moscow is supplying them with material support.
Russia's annexation of Crimea and the subsequent fighting have sparked a rapid deterioration of East-West relations -- punctuated by economic sanctions against Moscow and several military shows of force in recent months.
A Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet flew within 10 feet of an Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft last month, the Pentagon said earlier this week. A similar incident also occurred in April and on May 30 another Russian fighter made a low-level flyby past a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea.
The build-up still must be approved by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and President Barack Obama -- who must consider concerns among some NATO members who fear that Moscow might not respond well to a stockpile of American fighting equipment so close to its borders.
Sources in the Pentagon said they expect the plan to be approved before a meeting of NATO defense ministers later this month.