(Adds comments from Carter, Estonian minister, details)
By Phil Stewart
TALLINN, June 23 The United States will
pre-position tanks, artillery and other military equipment in
eastern and central Europe, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter
announced on Tuesday, moving to reassure NATO allies unnerved by
Russian involvement in Ukraine.
Carter, during a trip to Tallinn, said the Baltic states -
Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia -- as well as Bulgaria, Romania and
Poland agreed to host elements of this heavy equipment. Some of
the equipment would also be located in Germany.
The U.S. decision to stage heavy equipment closer to
Russia's borders aims to speed deployment of rotating U.S.
forces as NATO steps up exercises in Europe following Russia's
annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region last year.
Neighbouring NATO countries, especially the former Soviet
Baltic states with their Russian minorities, fear Russia could
foment trouble on their territories. Moscow denies any such
Flanked by defense chiefs from the Baltic states, Carter
quoted Obama during a visit to Estonia saying: "You lost your
independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it
"That's because the United States and the rest of the NATO
alliance are absolutely committed to defending the territorial
integrity of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania," Carter said.
Under NATO's founding treaty, an attack on any member state
would constitute an attack on all parties. Russia accuses the
West of violating post-Cold War arrangements by extending NATO
to Russia's frontiers, something the West denies
Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser welcomed the decision,
on pre-positioning as did representatives from Latvia and
Lithuania. Mikser said his nation was ready to host
pre-positioned equipment and a rotational presence of U.S.
"We have reasons to believe that Russia views the Baltic
region as one of NATO's most vulnerable areas, a place where
NATO's resolve and commitment could be tested," Mikser said.
CONDEMNATION IN MOSCOW
The United States had not formally disclosed where in Europe
the equipment would be stored before Tuesday but news reports
about military planning triggered an angry response from Moscow
ahead of Carter's trip to Europe this week.
A Russian defense ministry official said stationing tanks
and heavy weapons in NATO states on Russia's border would be the
most aggressive U.S. act since the Cold War.
President Vladimir Putin, who denies any direct involvement
in Ukraine and accuses the West of stirring tensions, announced
Russia would add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic
missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year.
Carter has condemned Putin's return to what he considers
Cold War-style rhetoric.
A fact sheet provided by the U.S. military said the United
States' pre-positioning would include about 250 tanks, Bradley
infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers.
The amount of equipment that would be temporarily stored in
each country would be enough to supply either a company, so
enough for about 150 soldiers, or a battalion, or about 750
soldiers. Much of it is already in Europe, officials say.
Carter said the equipment would move around as needed, to
support exercises in Europe.
U.S. officials say Ukraine has illustrated the importance of
being able to counter "hybrid warfare", the blend of
unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure that the
West says Russia has used there.
It also involves cyber warfare. Carter also announced plans
on Tuesday to work with an Estonia-based NATO cyber center to
help allies develop cyber defense strategies and critical
infrastructure protection planning.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Ralph Boulton)