Moscow Slams U.S. for Weapons Push Into Eastern Europe

The Russian Embassy in Washington blasted the Obama administration on Tuesday for its new plans to ship billions of dollars in armored vehicles, heavy weapons, and other military equipment to NATO members in Eastern and Central Europe.

“In our view these steps by U.S. and NATO are destabilizing and detrimental to the European security,” the embassy said in a statement to Foreign Policy. “There should be no doubt that Russia under any circumstances will be able to defend its citizens and national security interests.”

The remarks came in response to a Pentagon announcement on Tuesday of a budget plan that would more than quadruple funding for a larger U.S. military presence in Europe from $800 million to $3.4 billion. The additional weapons and equipment would go to Poland, Romania, Hungary, the Baltic states and other countries, so the alliance can keep a full armored combat brigade near Russia’s border at all times. The NATO members have grown increasingly alarmed by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, and periodic threats to its neighbors. The White House said Tuesday that the move was intended “to reassure allies and partners of our commitment to their security and territorial integrity.”

Outside analysts expressed surprise at the Pentagon’s decision to boost its military presence in Eastern Europe, including well-known Russia hawks like Evelyn Farkas, who quit the Pentagon’s top policy job in October after clashing with the administration for not responding more aggressively to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is a really big deal, and the Russians are going to have a cow,” Farkas told the New York Times on Tuesday, referring to the arms build-up.

She appears to be right.

The Russian Embassy called the announcement an attempt to “escalate tensions without obvious reasons” and said it violated the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, which included an agreement that both sides would not station large masses of troops between Russia and new NATO member countries.

A senior administration official denied that the U.S. actions were “threatening,” and told FP they “are in accordance” with the international agreement because the deployment of troops would be rotational.

The timing of the announcement also caught some observers off guard. Moscow’s military actions in eastern Ukraine have lessened in the past few months even though it continues to coordinate with pro-Russian rebels there. In December, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said there has been a “sharp de-escalation of hostilities” since August in the conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people.

The senior administration official acknowledged that the plan wasn’t in response to recent Russian action, and characterized it as a broader administration effort.

“These actions are a response to a changed European security environment, and a range of new challenges confronting the alliance, not just in the east but also in the south,” said the official.