GRAFENWOEHR, Germany (Reuters) - Germany began sending tanks and other equipment to Lithuania on Tuesday as part of a NATO mission to beef up the defense of eastern Europe and send a signal of resolve to Russia, which has denounced the build-up as an act of aggression.
The German army command said it was sending about 200 vehicles, including 30 tanks, by train to Lithuania along with 450 troops, the first of whom arrived last week. The transports would continue until late February.
Seven decades after the end of World War Two, the movement of German troops to eastern Europe, even on a NATO mission, remains a sensitive issue both in Germany and the region.
On Monday the U.S. military deployed thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry to Poland, the Baltic states and southeastern Europe in its biggest build-up since the Cold War.
The movements are part of a strategy agreed by NATO leaders last July to reassure member states that were once part of the Soviet bloc and have been alarmed by Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
The 28-nation Western alliance decided to move four battalions totaling 3,000 to 4,000 troops into northeastern Europe on a rotating basis to display its readiness to defend eastern members against any Russian aggression.
The deployments focus on Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which fear Moscow could try to destabilize them by cyber attacks, territorial incursions or other means.
Russia denies such intentions and has described NATO’s behavior as aggressive and threatening.
In early January, hundreds of U.S. tanks, trucks and other military equipment arrived by ship in Germany to be transported by rail and road to eastern Europe for use by U.S. troops being deployed under the NATO plan.
Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Mark Trevelyan