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U.S. May Send Tanks And Infantry Vehicles To Eastern Europe


The Pentagon is seeking approval for a plan to put tanks and other heavy weaponry into European countries on the border with Russia. It's an effort to counter what has become Russia's increasingly aggressive posture in the region. Military officials told The New York Times they want to store enough equipment in the Baltics and Eastern European countries to supply up to 5,000 U.S. troops if they need to respond quickly to a Russian power grab. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is with us to talk more about the implications of all of this. Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what more are you hearing about this equipment - how much, what kind?

BOWMAN: Well, enough for a brigade of about 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers so we're talking hundreds of Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, towed artillery. And I'm told they'll be coming from Fort Stewart, Ga. But first, it has to be approved by Defense Secretary Ash Carter. I'm told it's on his desk. And this would be the first time since the end of the Cold War that such equipment has been stationed in Eastern Europe. Now, this plan is not new. It's been discussed for at least six months or more. And I'm told, initially, they thought about this staging this equipment in Germany in maybe one of the Baltic States.

MARTIN: OK, Baltic States. Any more specifics on exactly what countries we're talking about?

BOWMAN: You know, they haven't announced them yet. The U.S. is still working on agreements with these countries. But I'm told besides the Baltic States - Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia - we're also looking at Poland, Hungary and others; possibly, they say, seven countries in all.

MARTIN: OK, if approved, when would this whole thing happen?

BOWMAN: Well, what I'm hearing is this could start fairly soon and be in place by the fall. Now, right now, the U.S. does not have any of this so-called heavy armor in Europe. They have some there for training purposes. The U.S. has removed a lot of the heavy divisions over the years from Europe, but the U.S. does have a Stryker combat vehicle unit over there in Germany.

MARTIN: So, Tom, some are saying this whole thing violates a 1997 cooperation agreement that NATO signed with Russia that talked about no more U.S. troops being sent to this area.

BOWMAN: That's right. The agreement was signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin at a time when the U.S. was cooperating with Russia. Both countries sent peacekeepers to the Balkans. And that agreement talked about trying to prevent what it called aggressive nationalism. That shows you how times have changed. So you could see Russia challenging the U.S. plan. But there is some international law experts who think Russia has already violated this agreement with its moves in Ukraine. And, of course, we're not talking about troops being stationed here equipment, just equipment.

MARTIN: As of yet. How do we know this isn't just political posturing to some degree? Is the U.S., is the Pentagon really positioned to deploy American troops to Eastern Europe if need be?

BOWMAN: Well, I think they could. They would definitely go for training exercises in some of these countries. And if there's any sort of a crisis, they could send them there to fall in on this equipment. But some of this is political posturing. This is really sending a message to Putin that, listen, don't even think of coming near any of these NATO countries. But Putin gave an interview to an Italian newspaper earlier this week, and he basically said only an insane person or someone dreaming would think that Russia would take on any NATO country.

MARTIN: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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