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US to pre-position tanks, artillery in Baltics, eastern Europe

U.S. Army soldiers unload M1 Abrams tanks which will participate in exercises at the training ground in Drawsko Pomorskie, Jankowo Pomorskie, northwestern Poland March 18, 2015. REUTERS/Cezary Aszkielowicz/Agencja Gazeta

TALLINN: The United States will pre-position tanks, artillery and other military equipment in eastern and central Europe, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced on Tuesday, moving to reassure NATO allies unnerved by Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

Carter, during a trip to Tallinn, said the Baltic states - Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia - as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Poland agreed to host elements of this equipment. Some of the equipment would also be located in Germany.

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.

The United States had not formally disclosed where in Europe the equipment would be stored but news reports about military planning triggered an angry response from Moscow ahead of Carter's trip to Europe this week.

A Russian Defense Ministry official said stationing tanks and heavy weapons in NATO states on Russia's border would be the most aggressive U.S. act since the Cold War.

President Vladimir Putin announced Russia would add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year. Carter has condemned Russia's "loose rhetoric" involving nuclear arms.

A fact sheet provided by the U.S. military said the United States' pre-positioning would include about 250 tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers.

The amount of equipment that would be temporarily stored in each country would be enough to supply either a company, so enough for about 150 soldiers, or a battalion, or about 750 soldiers. Much of it is already in Europe, officials say.

Moscow denies providing troops or arms to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. But neighboring NATO countries, especially the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which have Russian minorities, fear Russia could foment trouble on their territories.

U.S. officials say Ukraine has illustrated the importance of being able to counter "hybrid warfare," the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure that the West says Russia has used there.

It also involves cyber warfare. Carter also announced plans on Tuesday to work with an Estonia-based NATO cyber center to help allies develop cyber defense strategies and critical infrastructure protection planning.

 

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