Pavel Golovkin / AP

Official: Pentagon may store heavy weapons in Baltics, Eastern Europe

Defense official says move would 'put equipment where US troops would need it in the event of Russian aggression'

The Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries in an attempt to deter any possible further Russian aggression in Europe, a senior defense official said Saturday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record, did not confirm the precise make-up of the equipment, but said it would be roughly what is know as a “brigade set” — the amount of equipment and weaponry used by one U.S. Army armored brigade, approximately 5,000 troops. That equipment would typically include M1A1 tanks, armored vehicles and other heavy weapons.

“This is more than a symbolic move,” the official told Al Jazeera. “It is designed to put equipment where U.S. troops would need it in the event of Russian aggression.”

The New York Times originally reported the story. Citing U.S. and allied officials, the newspaper said that if approved the proposal would mark the first time since the Cold War that Washington has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member states in Eastern Europe that were once part of the Soviet sphere of influence.

The proposal, which seeks to reassure European allies in the wake of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in March 2014, is expected to be approved by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the White House before a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels this month, the paper said, quoting senior officials.

Asked about the article, a Pentagon spokesman said no decision had been made about the equipment.

"Over the last few years, the United States military has increased the prepositioning of equipment for training and exercises with our NATO Allies and Partners," Col. Steve Warren said in a statement.

"The U.S. military continues to review the best location to store these materials in consultation with our allies. At this time, we have made no decision about if or when to move to this equipment," he said.

The New York Times said that as it stood now, the proposal envisaged that "a company's worth of equipment — enough for about 150 soldiers — would be stored in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Enough for a company or possibly a battalion — about 750 soldiers — would be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary."

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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