Planned deployment of US heavy weaponry in Baltics could prompt Russian military drills and build-up along border

A picture taken on September 26, 2013, shows a Russian-built BTR-82A amphibious armoured personnel carrier lands on the seashore during a joint military exercises of Russian and Belarus troops at the Khmelevka firing range in the Russia's enclave of Kaliningrad. AFP PHOTO/ RIA-NOVOSTI/ POOL /ALEXEY DRUZHININ

The US and Lithuanian governments signed an agreement on 17 June, setting the terms of the proposed stationing of US forces and weapons on Lithuanian soil to facilitate the United States-funded upgrade of the Lithuanian military infrastructure (specifically, the Siauliai airbase, Rukla Pabrade polygon).

A day earlier, Lithuanian defence minister Juozas Olekas confirmed media reports that the US was planning to deploy heavy weaponry for up to 5,000 US troops in all three Baltic countries and Poland, including tanks and infantry vehicles.

Although NATO sees this as a viable security guarantee, the commitment falls short of the Baltics’ primary request for the permanent stationing of allied troops.

Nevertheless, Russia has grown increasingly uneasy in recent weeks amid numerous NATO-led military exercises in the region. On 17 June, the Latvian army said that five jets and nine warships had been detected close to the Latvian border in the past 24 hours. On 16 June, the press secretary of President Vladimir Putin, Dmitriy Peskov, stated that Moscow was ready for a dialogue with its Baltic counterparts on the normalisation of relations. Peskov’s statement seems unfeasible, as on the same day Putin declared that NATO was provocatively moving towards Russia’s borders, which would necessitate a reciprocal response through a military build-up at its frontier.

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