US Fortifies Europe to Deter Putin

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Washington: President Barack Obama plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russian from further aggression in the region.

The White House plans on paying for the additional weapons and equipment with a budget request of more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe in 2017, several officials said Monday, more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million. The weapons and equipment will be used by US and NATO forces, ensuring that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade in the region at all times.

Though Russia’s military activity has quieted in eastern Ukraine in recent months, Moscow continues to maintain a presence there, working with pro-Russian local forces. Administration officials said the additional NATO forces were calculated to send a signal to President Vladimir V Putin that the West remained deeply suspicious of his motives in the region.

“This is not a response to something that happened last Tuesday,” a senior administration official said. “This is a longer-term response to a changed security environment in Europe. This reflects a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor.”

It is not clear how Russia will react to the fortified military presence along NATO’s eastern border. Since the signing of a cease-fire agreement last year, Putin’s government has tried to ease tensions with the West. While the increase in funding for Europe is significant, the administration is proposing that the money come out of a separate war-funding account that is meant to pay for operations in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the continued US military presence in Afghanistan. That means it is a one-time request, not necessarily a continuing commitment, built in to budget requests beyond 2017, officials said.

“It’s a way to get around the budget caps” imposed on the Pentagon, said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

But, Harrison added, the budget workaround may not succeed in reassuring fretful Eastern European allies because it leaves the decision on what do about future military spending in Europe for the next administration. “If you want to be reassuring to our allies in Europe,” he said, “you’ve got to show you’ve got a future plan.”

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