Russia says will retaliate if U.S. weapons stationed on its borders

MOSCOW/WARSAW - A plan by Washington to station tanks and heavy weapons in NATO states on Russia's border would be the most aggressive U.S. act since the Cold War, and Moscow would retaliate by beefing up its own forces, a Russian defense officia...

MOSCOW / WARSAW  - A plan by Washington to station tanks and heavy weapons in NATO states on  Russia 's border would be the most aggressive U.S. act since the Cold War, and  Moscow  would retaliate by beefing up its own forces, a Russian defense official said on Monday. The  United States  is offering to store military equipment on allies' territory in  eastern Europe , a proposal aimed at reassuring governments worried that after the conflict in  Ukraine , they could be the Kremlin's next target.

Poland  and the  Baltic states , where officials say privately they have been frustrated the NATO alliance has not taken more decisive steps to deter  Russia , welcomed the decision by Washington to take the lead.

But others in the region were more cautious, fearing their countries could be caught in the middle of a new arms race between  Russia  and the  United States .

"If heavy U.S. military equipment, including tanks, artillery batteries and other equipment really does turn up in countries in  eastern Europe  and the  Baltics , that will be the most aggressive step by the  Pentagon  and NATO since the Cold War," Russian defense ministry official General  Yuri Yakubov  said.

" Russia  will have no option but to build up its forces and resources on the Western strategic front," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.


He said the Russian response was likely to include speeding up the deployment of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave bordered by  Poland  and  Lithuania , and beefing up Russian forces in ex-Soviet Belarus.

"Our hands are completely free to organize retaliatory steps to strengthen our Western frontiers," Yakubov said.

Kremlin spokesman  Dmitry Peskov  declined to comment on the  Pentagon  plan, citing the lack of any official announcements from the  U.S. government .


U.S. officials said their proposal envisages storing a company's worth of equipment, enough for 150 soldiers, in each of the three Baltic nations:  LithuaniaLatvia  and  Estonia .

Enough equipment for a company or possibly a battalion, or about 750 soldiers, would also be located in  Poland , RomaniaBulgaria  and possibly  Hungary .

The idea was that, in the event of an attack on NATO's eastern border, the  United States  could quickly fly in troops who would use the equipment, cutting out the weeks or months it would take to transport convoys of gear overland across  Europe .

However, the U.S. proposal could cause tensions within NATO, an alliance that often struggles to accommodate more hawkish members such as  Poland  or  Lithuania  alongside other states that want to avoid a military stand-off with  Russia  at any cost.


Speaking after talks in  Warsaw  with the U.S. Secretary of the  NavyRay Mabus , Polish Defense Minister  Tomasz Siemoniak  said he expected a final U.S. decision on the equipment within a few weeks.

"They know how important this is to us, because we want to build a permanent U.S. presence, the allied army here on the Polish territory," Siemoniak told reporters.

"It seems to me that such enterprises, that is equipment warehouses, are a very crucial step when it comes to building such a presence."


Since  Russia 's annexation of  Ukraine 's  Crimea Peninsula  and a rebellion by  Moscow -backed separatists in eastern UkrainePoland  and the  Baltic states  - countries with a history of Russian occupation - have pushed NATO for a muscular response.

But proposals for a permanent NATO combat presence in  eastern Europe  were blocked by  Germany  and some other alliance members. Instead, NATO intensified exercises, rotating troops through the region and set up a command headquarters for a rapid reaction force in north- west Poland .

Sources close to the government in  Poland , and other states in the region, said that response persuaded them they could not fully rely on NATO, and that their best bet in the event of an attack was that the U.S. military would come to their aid.

At a NATO summit in  Wales  last year, agreement was reached on "pre-positioning" military equipment in  eastern Europe , but the  Pentagon 's plan appeared to go further and faster than measures envisaged by the alliance.


The initiative could force some former  Warsaw  Pact countries now in NATO to make uncomfortable choices.

Bulgaria  and  Hungary  both say they are committed members of the alliance, but they have maintained close cultural and commercial ties to  Moscow , and may not want to jeopardize those links by storing U.S. military equipment on their soil.

Rosen Plevneliev , the Bulgarian President, said it was too early to say if his country would join the  Pentagon 's initiative.

"At the current moment there is no proposal whatsoever to the  Bulgarian government  upon which we can start discussions," he said.

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