US tanks pour into Eastern Europe: What can Putin and Trump do?

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January 9, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

SvPressa – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

On Friday, January 6th, hundred of tanks, trucks, and other military vehicles from America were unloaded at the German port of Bremerhaven. The Resolve transport ship delivered the load as part of the deployment of the US’ 3rd armored brigade combat group of the 4th infantry division in Eastern Europe. On January 8th, two more American transport ships, Freedom and Endurance, arrived with loads at Germany’s coast. 

In Bremerhaven, the military vehicles are being loaded onto rail cars to be sent to their deployment destinations via Germany and Poland. According to the Bundeswehr, transporting the forces requires as many as 900 train cars with a total length of 14 kilometers. It is expected that the American troops will be taken first to Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania. The Pentagon has not reported their exact destinations. 

Washington’s plans to deploy an armored brigade in Eastern Europe became known back in April 2016. According to the commander of the European Command of the US Armed Forces (EUCOM), General Philip Breedlove, this is a reaction to the “aggressive” policies of the Kremlin. On paper, the Americans’ plan looks impressive: 4,200 soldiers, 250 tanks, howitzers, and military vehicles, as well as 1,700 additional transport vehicles are set to be deployed.

The decision to deploy this third brigade in Europe has come at a great cost to the Pentagon. The White House has announced that its intended allocations for additional arms and equipments in Europe for 2017 will be more than $3.4 billion. This named figure is four times higher than the amount foreseen in the 2016 budget.

The new brigade will differ from the US Army’s other two brigades stationed in Germany and Italy. No new barracks will be built in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, or the Baltic countries. The personnel and equipment of the brigade will change every nine months and will be broken into smaller units who will rotate through different countries. In doing so, Washington insists that it is guaranteeing observance of the NATO-Russia Act of 1997, according to which the alliance must refrain from permanently deploying “substantial combat forces” in Eastern Europe.

The Pentagon’s plans have drawn strong reaction from the Kremlin. Russia’s permanent representative to NATO, Alexander Grushko, has stated that they are “further complicating already difficult relations” between Russia and NATO. Russia’s envoy characterized the US military leadership’s intentions as “another step reinforcing NATO’s transition to confrontational security schemes.”

Will these plans be changed when Donald Trump comes to power in the US? What can Russia respond with to NATO’s reinforcements in Eastern Europe? 

The leading expert of the Center for Political-Military Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and doctor of political science, Mikhail Aleksandrov, says:

Barack Obama launched the deployment of the 3rd armored brigade to Europe earlier than planned. Originally, I’ll remind you, the operation was scheduled for February 2017. This is being done, of course, as one of the decisions of the NATO Warsaw summit on deploying four tactical battalions to Poland and the Baltic states. 

Here it should be understood that the tactical battalion groups have infrastructure for rapid deployment as fully-fledged brigades. Their personnel can be airlifted and equipment will be already be waiting in  warehouses. These will be the West’s most combat ready brigades in Europe, plus they will be supported by the Polish army, which is already an impressive force, in addition to which aircraft can also be rapidly deployed from Germany or even the US.

As a result, in the span of two weeks, the US could create a powerful strike force on the borders of the Kaliningrad region.

As for our side, we have three divisions total there plus the Baltic Fleet. However, NATO could deflect our fleet’s forces by deploying additional naval groups to the Baltic where, in fact, both the German and Polish navies are already located. In other words, the West could genuinely establish a superiority of forces around Kaliningrad. 

Svobodnaya Pressa asked Aleksandrov how this deployment can be confronted. He responded:

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We can increase our grouping in the Kaliningrad region itself. But this is a small territory, not many troops can be posted there. In addition, all of these compounds will be in the area of direct impact. This means that if NATO decides to strike first, then our troops there will be largely put out of action.

In my opinion, the best option is creating two tank armies on the borders of Latvia and Lithuania. In this case, NATO will have no illusions that it could take Kaliningrad. Even if Belarus remains neutral given the current ‘wobbly’ politics of Alexander Lukashenko, then our tank armies could swing through Latvia, take Lithuania, and quickly reach the borders of the Kaliningrad region.

Thus, our Kaliningrad group would need to hold out two to three days, and then our tank armies would crush the Polish army and the American brigades. The most important, I’ll repeat, is that NATO has no doubt that we will crush them in this region without the use of nuclear weapons, because now NATO is counting on the possibility that we won’t dare use nuclear weapons, and is counting on a superiority in conventional weapons.

When asked whether Trump could roll back the Obama Administration’s plans for strengthening its military presence in Eastern Europe, Aleksandrov replied:

I think he can. But Obama is doing everything to hinder this pull back. If the deployment of the brigade were held off until February as planned, then Trump, whose inauguration is on January 20th, could have postponed the transfer of troops until negotiations could be held with Vladimir Putin, and then he could have cancelled them altogether. 

But now Trump can’t withdraw the troops, or else he would face serious attacks from all the Russophobes and representatives of the Democratic Party. Thus, he will be compelled to act cautiously.

What can the Kremlin do in this situation?  Aleksandrov continued:

Putin, I believe, needs to raise the point in talks that NATO needs to return to its promise to not deploy substantial forces to Eastern Europe and to withdraw the American troops. Otherwise, we will be compelled to take adequate countermeasures.

In addition, Trump himself should decide whether he aims to continue the confrontation with Russia or change the direction of foreign policy. In theory, he could blackmail us with the strengthening of forces in Eastern Europe to make us give concessions in Syria and also concerning Iran and China.

But if Trump really decides to opt for this blackmail, this will be a failed policy. In this case, we are not going to retreat, and we will force the Americans to pull even more forces to the Eastern European front. As a result, Washington will not have enough forces to confront Beijing or even solve problems in the Middle East. Trump should think carefully before opting for escalating tensions between Russia and the US.

The deputy director of the Taurida Information-Analytical Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Sergey Ermakov, posited on this: 

A correction of NATO’s course in Eastern Europe is possible, but this won’t happen in the near future. A frontline military presence is very important to the Americans. In addition, the anti-Russian legislative initiatives which Obama has passed at the end of his presidency have a certain inertia. Trump will have to consider this. It is no coincidence that American political analysts believe that a maximum number of barriers are being put up in front of the new US President so that he won’t get too close to Russia.

In addition, the question of what will happen with NATO is now being sharply raised. Over recent years, several centers of forces have formed in the alliance, one of which is the countries of Western Europe, i.e., the neophytes who are ready to support the US in everything, plus Turkey, which is now playing a big foreign policy game.

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All of this makes NATO an important tool for the US despite Trump’s statements on the uselessness of the alliance. It is none other than through NATO that the US’ military policy is realized. In order for the alliance to be kept afloat and its feasibility justified, the Americans genuinely need the military presence in Eastern Europe. 

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