As President Obama deploys thousands of troops and new military hardware to Europe, Moscow is waiting to see the next moves of the Trump administration.
A U.S. paratrooper during the NATO-led peacekeeping military exercises to maintain proficiency in airborne operations in Kosovo. Photo: AP
In early January, just two weeks before the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, the U.S. started deploying troops and military equipment in the port of Bremerhaven in northwestern Germany, close to Eastern Europe. The Independent, a British media outlet, described the move as "the biggest transfer of American armour to the region since the fall of the Soviet Union."
The U.S. is carrying out the transfer of its armored equipment as part of the agreement between Washington and its NATO allies signed in April 2016 that was intended to provide Eastern European countries with security. At the same time, the U.S. and NATO plan to conduct a large-scale military exercise in Poland.
NATO and the U.S. have stepped up their efforts to boost NATO’s military buildup and presence in Europe ever since the start of the civil war in Ukraine in 2014, when Russia began to be seen as a potential adversary.
Given the fact that Trump will come to the Oval Office in January, it remains to be seen how Washington will change its approach toward NATO and its allies in Eastern Europe in 2017. Will the U.S. withdraw its troops from Europe? If not, what will Trump demand from its partners to maintain the American military presence close to the borders of Russia?
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Washington and NATO actually agreed to deploy the American military equipment and troops and create all necessary infrastructure in July 2016, about five months before the presidential election in the U.S. That’s why any speculation that U.S. President Barack Obama tried to complicate the presidency of his successor Trump is probably unfounded. This is not a last-minute move designed to lock in the American military presence.
Moreover, the U.S. president has significant authority and independence in conducting defense and foreign policies. The U.S. Congress can restrict President Trump only if he tries to cancel or alleviate the sanctions imposed on Russia for its policy in Ukraine and its alleged hacking into the U.S. electoral process.
Thus, Trump might reverse the U.S. military buildup in Eastern Europe without requesting the endorsement of Congress. Yet, stopping this process will be difficult. And does the U.S. President-elect really want it, given the fact that he makes no bones about his plans to boost U.S. military capabilities and make the nation even stronger?
Currently the U.S. is transferring its infantry and deploying military equipment in Eastern Europe. Washington announced this move almost one year ago. There are several goals of such a military buildup.
First, the U.S. and its NATO allies could seek to earn more experience in the fast transfer of troops and equipment from the United States to Europe to withstand the Russian threat in case of a direct conflict with Moscow.
Second, they might want to test the capacity of the German and Eastern European railways to see if this infrastructure is sufficient to transfer troops and military equipment.
Third, Poland, which has one of the strongest armies in Europe, gets a chance to coordinate a military exercise with its American allies in January and February.
Finally, the Eastern European allies of Washington can feel secure, because the very fact that Washington has started transferring its troops and equipment close to Russian borders proves the U.S. commitment to defend its allies in the case of aggression from their big neighbor to the east.
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Interestingly, the U.S. is expected to deploy four battalions, comprising just 4,000 people. Moreover, they will be scattered along the Russian border to strengthen the armies of the Baltic countries, Romania and Poland. All this might mean that the transfer of the U.S. troops is purely a symbolic move, intended to create much buzz and send a message to Moscow. At the same time, it seems obvious that American military instructors will train their allies how to use their equipment and conduct joint military campaigns.
Oddly enough, the current military buildup doesn’t contradict the statements of Trump, who promised to scale down the American presence abroad. It might just mean that the U.S. President-elect will ask America’s EU clients to pay more of their own defense and security. At the same time, one should not forget that Trump planned to reequip the U.S. army and increase its personnel.
This could indicate that the big financial burden on maintaining the security and army in Europe will be shifted to the Europeans themselves. In other words, Poland, Romania and the Baltic countries will have to spend budgetary resources from their own coffers to maintain the military infrastructure for American troops and equipment. Trump’s policy is crystal clear: No money — no security.
And if Europeans, concerned with the Russia’s “aggressive aspirations,” are ready to financially maintain the army of the United States on their territories, it will be a good deal for Washington. Thus, Trump is not interested so far in cancelling the agreements of the outgoing U.S. presidential administration. Moreover, the U.S. President-elect should be interested in “exporting” its military equipment abroad and transferring a great number of troops — as long as someone else is paying.
Oddly enough, such an approach of Trump doesn’t bring about concerns within the Kremlin, at least because Russia itself is stepping up its military buildup close to Europe. It maintains a troop contingent of 330,000 people in the western part of the country, close to the Baltic countries, Poland and Romania. Moreover, Moscow is extensively reforming and reequipping its army while paying a great deal of attention to the country’s nuclear potential and missile systems.
Thus, approximately 10,000-15,000 American soldiers scattered along NATO’s eastern borders don’t pose a serious threat to Russia. However, the Kremlin might be concerned with the other important challenge: those American military instructors deployed in Eastern Europe might eventually end up in Ukraine to train its army. After all, official Washington and Brussels have made clear their readiness to support the Ukrainian army, with Kiev having admitted that American instructors had trained its army before.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.