U.S. ready to help EU speed up troop movement to meet Russia challenge

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The new U.S. administration wants to help the European Union move troops and equipment more rapidly across Europe to deal with a potential conflict with Russia.

Massive Russian war games on the eastern flank of military alliance NATO in recent years have raised concern over a potential conflict accidentally triggered in eastern Europe, before U.S. and Canadian reinforcement can arrive.

A European military source said that the United States, Canada and Norway, all NATO members outside the EU, had sent a request last week to participate in a European project dubbed “military Schengen” for the EU’s border-free zone.

It is one of 46 “permanent structured cooperation” (PESCO) projects aimed at deepening military cooperation within the European Union. Countries outside the bloc have been allowed to join these projects since November 2020.

Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Campbell confirmed the U.S. request on Tuesday, adding Washington was also considering cooperation in other PESCO projects.

“U.S. participation provides added value to the project given U.S. expertise in force and material movements across Europe and can lead to an increase of unhindered movement of military personnel and assets within European borders,” he said.

Washington’s request to join is seen as a sign of President Joe Biden’s wish for a closer engagement with European allies after the standoffish approach of his predecessor Donald Trump.

Conflicting laws across 27 EU countries as well as bridges and tunnels too narrow or weak for tanks or heavy equipment are obstacles to military movements, NATO commanders say.

The European military source said U.S. help might come in the form of financial support or participation in exercises and that EU defence ministers would discuss the offer in May.

Reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Peter Graff