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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Military Buildup Against Russia Largest Since Cold War

Britain, U.S. sending planes, troops 

to deter Russia in the east

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg briefs the media during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance
 headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

By Robin Emmott and Phil Stewart | BRUSSELS
Britain said on Wednesday it will send fighter jets to Romania next year and the
 United States promised troops, tanks and artillery to Poland in NATO's biggest
military build-up on Russia's borders since the Cold War.
Germany, Canada and other NATO allies also pledged forces at a defense ministers
meeting in Brussels on the same day two Russian warships armed with cruise
 missiles entered the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Denmark, underscoring
 East-West tensions.
In Madrid, the foreign ministry said Russia had withdrawn a request to refuel
 three warships in Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta after NATO allies
said they could be used to target civilians in Syria.
The ships were part of an eight-ship carrier battle group - including Russia's sole
 aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov - that is expected to join around 10 other
 Russian vessels already off the Syrian coast, diplomats said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the troop contributions to a
new 4,000-strong force in the Baltics and eastern Europe were a measured
 response to what the alliance believes are some 330,000 Russian troops
stationed on Russia's western flank near Moscow.
"This month alone, Russia has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles
to Kaliningrad and suspended a weapons-grade plutonium agreement with the
 United States," Stoltenberg said, also accusing Russia of continued support for
 rebels in Ukraine.
Those ballistic missiles can hit targets across Poland and the Baltics, although
 NATO officials declined to say if Russia had moved nuclear warheads to
NATO's aim is to make good on a July promise by NATO leaders to deter
Russia in Europe's ex-Soviet states, after Moscow orchestrated the annexation
of the Crimea peninsula in 2014.
NATO's plan is to set up four battle groups with a total of some 4,000 troops
from early next year, backed by a 40,000-strong rapid-reaction force, and if
 need be, follow-on forces.
As part of that, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced a "battle-
ready battalion task force" of about 900 soldiers would be sent to eastern
 Poland, as well as another, separate force equipped with tanks and other
 heavy equipment to move across eastern Europe.
"It's a major sign of the U.S. commitment to strengthening deterrence here,"
Carter said.
Britain's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Britain would send an 800-
strong battalion to Estonia, supported by French and Danish troops, starting
 from May. The United States wants its troops in position by June.
London is also sending Typhoon fighter aircraft to Romania to patrol around
 the Black Sea, partly in support of Turkey.
"Although we are leaving the European Union, we will be doing more to
 help secure the eastern and southern flanks of NATO," Fallon said.
Others NATO allies joined the four battle groups led by the United States,
Germany, Britain and Canada to go to Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
Canada said it was sending 450 troops to Latvia, joined by 140 military
personnel from Italy.
Germany said it was sending between 400 and 600 troops to Lithuania,
 with additional forces from the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Croatia
and Luxembourg.
Stoltenberg said allies' commitments would be "a
clear demonstration of our transatlantic bond." Diplomats
said it would also send a message to Republican
presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has
 complained that European allies do not pay their way
 in the alliance.
For the Kremlin, the U.S.-led alliance's plans are already
 too much given Russia's grievances at NATO's expansion
 eastwards, although Stoltenberg denied going too far.
But NATO's troop announcements in the Baltic states and Poland were partly
 overshadowed by the dispute about whether Spain should refuel the Russian
 warships, which was later resolved by Moscow's decision to withdraw its request.
NATO's tensions with Russia have been building since Crimea and the West's
 decision to impose retaliatory sanctions.
But the breakdown of a U.S-Russia brokered ceasefire in Syria on Oct. 3, followed
by U.S. accusations that Russia has used cyber attacks to disrupt the presidential
election, have signaled a worsening of ties.
Even before the break down of the Syrian ceasefire, Russian President Vladimir
 Putin suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade
plutonium, signaling he was willing to use nuclear disarmament as a new
bargaining chip in disputes with the United States over Ukraine and Syria.