NATO deploys troops from Germany, Belgium to Lithuania

By Allen Cone  |  Jan. 25, 2017 at 10:03 AM
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Jan. 25 (UPI) -- The first troops dispatched by NATO from Germany and Belgium to beef up its forces against Russia have arrived in Lithuania.

On Tuesday, about a dozen German officers arrived in the capital city of Vilnius as part of a planned deployment of a 1,200-strong battalion from other NATO members, including from Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Croatia and France. The battalion will be stationed in Rukla.

"My soldiers and I are really happy to be in Lithuania and to start enhanced forward presence together with Lithuanian friends and partners," the commander of the battalion, Lt. Col. Christoph Huber, told journalists at the airport.

Earlier Tuesday, around 30 Belgian forces arrived at the airport, and a ship carrying military equipment docked at the port city of Klaipeda, Lithuania's military spokesman, Andrius Dilda, said.

"The Belgian soldiers arrived at the Palanga airport, and their equipment arrived by ferry," Captain Andrius Dilda, spokesman for the Lithuanian Armed Forces, told Baltic News Service.

Last year, NATO decided to station a multinational battalion in each of the three Baltic countries in response to Russia's intervention in Ukraine and military activity in the region. Canada is set to lead a multi-national battalion in Latvia and Britain will send troops to Estonia.

Earlier this month, U.S. troops arrived in the small town of Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland. U.S. troops reached Poland after a three-day journey through Germany.

"We should not forget that the arriving troops are from the large Western states," Deividas Slekys, a political scientist at the Vilnius University's International Relations and Political Science Institute, told BNS. "It is a signal to Moscow that the Western states take the political risks, knowing that their troops could die and give more thought to their ways of response. Russia should calculate whether it wants to see what Washington or London would do under these circumstances."'

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the arrival of U.S. troops in Poland threatens Russia's "interests" and "security." Alexei Meshkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, said the NATO operation is a "factor destabilizing European security."

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