Europe Turning Into Hotbed: US Boosts Military Presence
Andrei AKULOV | 19.08.2015 | OPINION

Europe Turning Into Hotbed: US Boosts Military Presence

The US Marine Corps shipped four Abrams main battle tanks, three howitzer artillery cannons and six light armored reconnaissance vehicles to the Combined Arms Company on Sunday, August 16, said Capt. Richard Ulsh, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Europe.

The vehicles and weapons were first transported to Bremerhaven, Germany, from North Carolina. The heavy equipment was then loaded onto trains and sent about 1,100 miles to the Novo Selo Training Area in Bulgaria, where about 160 US Marines are deployed on six-month rotations. They fall under the Romania-based Black Sea Rotational Force, a semi-annual rotation of Marines and Sailors able to respond to a broad range of military operations in the US European Command area of responsibility. The Force is based at the Mihail Koglinceanu Air Base in Romania.

While Marines visit Novo Selo every year to work with their NATO allies, the new Combined Arms Company will be stationed there on a semi-permanent basis. Marines can now expect to rotate through regular deployments to the facility.

The new contingent will increase the overall size of the existing task force by around 150 percent. As of February 2015, there were some 260 Marines with the Black Sea Rotational Force in Romania. Two months later, the Marine Corps sent another 200 troops from its Africa-focused unit in Spain to help out.

While deployed, the Marines will train alongside Romanian and Bulgarian troops. There are also plans in the works for the company to train with forces from the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Georgia, among others. The US Army stood up similar company-sized rotations in the Baltic states and Poland.

This June the Pentagon came up with the plans to deploy heavy military equipment enough for 5,000 American military in several Baltic and Eastern European states allegedly «to deter» Russia. A company’s worth of equipment — enough for about 150 soldiers – are to be stored in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Enough for a company or possibly a battalion — about 750 soldiers — will be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and, possibly, Hungary.

In September, an exercise called Operation Brave Warrior will demonstrate mobility from Germany across the Danube river into Hungary. It will be followed by Trident Juncture, one of the Alliance’s largest exercises in recent history, with over 25,000 troops from more than 30 nations. The training event will take place from 3 October until 6 November 2015. It will culminate with the certification of the Headquarters Staff from Joint Force Command Brunssum to lead the NATO Response Force (NRF), if activated, throughout 2016. The NRF is a high readiness and technologically advanced force comprising of land, air, maritime and special forces units capable of being deployed quickly on operations wherever needed.

Since the beginning of Ukrainian crisis NATO uses it as a pretext to increase consistently its military presence close to the Russian borders.

Up to 30 military aircrafts from NATO member states, no less than 300 armored vehicles and more than 1500 servicemen of the US land forces and marines are currently stationed in Eastern European states on the so-called «persistent rotational» (in fact permanent) basis. NATO navy groups permanently patrol the Baltic (First Standing Mine Counter-Measures Group) and the Mediterranean (First Standing Naval Force). The intensity of reconnaissance flights by the US Air Force and Alliance members over the territory of the Baltic countries, the Baltic and Barents Seas, has risen remarkably accounting for up to 8-12 sorties per week. Strategic reconnaissance flights by the US Air Force RC-135 are conducted almost on a daily basis. Since January 2015 regular flights of US reconnaissance Global Hawk drones have been routine in this area.

The 5000-strong spearhead Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (with land, air and sea components) is to become fully operational in 2016 as an element of NRF. It springs to mind that initially the NRF mainly targeted terrorist organizations. Now its prime mission has become to counter the «aggression of an eastern neighbor» implying Russia.

NATO is establishing a network of six advanced command centers in the Baltic countries, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania to coordinate the deployment of troops in the vicinity of Russian borders.

In addition, a Host Nation Support agreement was signed with Finland and Sweden, which in fact legitimizes the possibility of NATO troops to stay on the territories of these countries and to use their infrastructure to support the lift of coalition forces to the north of Europe.

All these facts testify to an unprecedented increase in the activities of NATO near the borders of the Russian Federation.

The NATO deployment started on August 16 is in violation of 1997 agreement (the Founding Act) between NATO and Russia which bans any substantial permanent deployment.

When NATO and Russia signed a historic cooperation deal in 1997, officials hailed the accord as a «victory of reason», a «definitive» end to the Cold War, and the dawn of collaboration in «a new Europe of unlimited opportunity». In that agreement, NATO pledged that, «in the current and foreseeable security environment», it would not seek «additional permanent stationing of substantial ground combat forces» in the nations closer to Russia.

Nearly two decades later, that agreement, appears to be mired in mistrust amid Ukraine fallout. The document of paramount importance is on the verge of being tossed onto the scrap heap.

On June 15, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a warning against deployment of heavy weapons on its western border. «The emergence of such information confirms that the U.S., in cooperation with its allies, apparently has serious sights on ultimately undermining key provisions in the ‘NATO Russia Founding Act’ of 1997, in which the alliance pledged not to deploy substantial combat forces on the territory of the countries mentioned in the permanent basis», the Ministry’s statement reads.

«We hope, however, that reason will prevail and that the situation in Europe will be able to keep from sliding to a new military confrontation that could have dangerous consequences», the statement stressed. Looks like this hope has failed to materialize.

I believe it expedient to mention another relevant fact here which reflects Russia’s approach to European security problems.

In June 2008 Russia made another effort to get rid of the legacy of the Cold War. It came up with the draft European Security Treaty intended to build a common security space in the Euro-Atlantic area. The document was based on the principle that no state can strengthen its security at the expense of others. The draft document was sent to the heads of states and international organizations, including NATO and the EU. Unfortunately, this initiative was simply swept under the rag.

In order to strengthen one of the pillars of the European security Russia submitted for consideration the Draft Agreement on Principles of Relations between NATO and Russia in December 2009. This initiative also met no response.

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The ongoing reinforcement of the NATO «Eastern flank» fuels additional tensions and undermines military security in Europe. Moreover, an increased military activity raises risks of unintended dangerous incidents. Many years of hard work and solid results achieved to enhance European security appear to go down the drain as US tanks are being moved to Bulgaria.

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