Three weeks after the "largest US military deployment into Eastern Europe since the cold war", consisting of thousands of tanks and troops under a planned NATO operation to "reassure the alliance’s Eastern European allies", on Tuesday Germany started the deployment of tanks to Lithuania as part of the same NATO mission meant to "bolster confidence" in the face of what NATO member states call "Russian aggression."
Germany is one of the countries that agreed to provide troops and weapons for the NATO mission, which involves deploying four battalions in Poland and the three Baltic states.
German soldiers sit on a Bueffel ("buffalo") armoured tank recovery vehicle in
Grafenwoehr, Germany January 31, 2017, before deployment to Lithuania
According to Reuters, the German army command said it was sending about 200 vehicles, including 30 tanks, by train to Lithuania along with 450 troops, the first of whom arrived last week. The transports would continue until late February. Seven decades after the end of World War Two, the movement of German troops to eastern Europe, even on a NATO mission, remains a sensitive issue both in Germany and the region.
On Monday the U.S. military deployed thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry to Poland, the Baltic states and southeastern Europe in its biggest build-up since the Cold War.
The 28-nation Western alliance decided to move four battalions totaling 3,000 to 4,000 troops into northeastern Europe on a rotating basis to display its readiness to defend eastern members against any Russian aggression. The deployments focus on Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which fear Moscow could try to destabilize them by cyber attacks, territorial incursions or other means.
The military buildup meant to put pressure on the Kremlin, is the largest since the Cold War and could put into question the NATO-Russia agreement permanently banning the deployment of significant forces by the alliance in Eastern Europe. NATO rejects such notions, saying the agreement did not specify how big a force should be for it to be considered “significant,” and insists that the deployment is rotational rather than permanent.
The bloc decided to boost its military presence on the Russian border in the wake of the political crisis in Ukraine. The most vocal members of NATO, such as Poland and the Baltic states, claimed that Russia could attack them after the events in Ukraine, prompting leading members of the alliance to agree on the troop deployments.
Moscow has denied any aggressive intentions towards NATO members and says the bloc is using a pretext to compromise Russia’s national security. The Russian armed forces have boosted their strength near the western border in response to the buildup.