The US military has begun the deployment of 4,000 troops and 87 tanks to Eastern Europe, German media reported on Thursday.

The US army is unloading 87 tanks and other military equipment including jeeps and howitzers from three transport ships at the German port of Bremerhaven, Germany’s Radio Bremen reportedon Friday.The equipment is being transported to Poland by rail, from where it will be distributed across the Baltic States, Bulgaria and Romania. A spokesman for the German Bundeswehr in Brandenburg said that a total 900 wagons would be required to transport the freight by rail, with a total length of 14 kilometers.

The extra military presence is part of the Atlantic Resolve operation launched by the US military in April 2014, in the aftermath of the US-backed Maidan coup d’etat in Ukraine.

The US has used claims of Russian military interference in Ukraine as the pretext for its military build-up in Eastern Europe, which Russia regards as a security threat.

In the past ten years NATO’s presence along Russia’s western borders has grown eightfold, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last month.Shoigu also referred to NATO military exercises carried out close to the Russian border, including the Anaconda war game which took place last June, the largest military exercise in eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.

In July NATO held a summit in Warsaw, where defense ministers finalized arrangementsto deploy multinational NATO battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, totaling around 4,000 troops.

The summit also confirmed the deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems and radars in Romania and Poland and confirmed that the United States would deploy 1,000 troops in Poland, allegedly to defend it against claimed Russian “aggression.”

Last month commander of US Army Europe Ben Hodges told the German magazine Der Spiegel that the US will continue to pursue military buildup in Europe in spite of the election of Donald Trump, who pledged to end the US commitment to European defense during his campaign.

“We will remain here, and we will remain the leader of NATO,” he said.

Hodges added that Democratic and Republican members of Congress had written to Trump urging him to maintain the US presence in Europe.

“They (the senators) want the US to remain in Europe, they want the deterrent against Russia,” the commander said.

Mar 19, 2018 – Germany’s new foreign minister Heiko Maas has said Russia will remain a difficult partner for Europe following Vladimir Putin’s re-election – and questioned the fairness of the vote.

Since Russian troops seized Ukraine’s strategic Crimean peninsula in late February, and separatists backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin began waging a bloody insurgency in the country’s east, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has walked a fine line.

The transatlantic military alliance has sent hundreds of troops to Ukraine to train alongside Kiev’s forces. But at a major summit in early September, NATO declined to offer Ukraine membership. The alliance doesn’t really want to go to war over Ukraine.

If Russia were to expand its coercive campaign, however, and invade neighboring Estonia — where a security officer is said to have been abducted by Russian forces, a little more than a week ago — NATO’s 27 other member states would have little choice but to deploy troops in combat. They are obligated under Article 5 of NATO’s 1949 founding charter to defend each other from attack.

A freight car loaded with self-propelled howitzers is seen at a railway station in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Rostov region, near the border with UkraineYet it’s not at all clear that Russia would choose to fight on NATO’s terms. A Russian form of secret warfare called maskirovka might not qualify as a military attack — and could avoid triggering NATO intervention. Instead of fighting in the open, Russian troops entered Crimea in vehicles with license plates and insignia blacked out. There was no clear evidence — at least available publicly — that it was the Russian’s themselves taking action, rather than locals acting on their own behalf.

Such tactics stop short of open warfare and the nations thus invaded fear that if they counterattack, they would then be labeled the aggressors.

All the same, President Barack Obama visited Estonia in September to reassure that country and the other Baltic nations. “The defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius,” Obama said in Tallinn on Sept. 3, “is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London.”

To that end, NATO has sophisticated plans to send progressively bigger and heavier forces to do battle on its frontier. The alliance could readily deploy more and better-armed troops than Russia.

Consider, the last time both Russia and NATO reported weapons totals, back in 2007: The alliance possessed a combined 61,000 tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, warplanes and helicopters against Russia’s 28,000. NATO’s active-duty military manpower exceeds 3 million. Russia has fewer than one million active troops.

Yet if Moscow did have designs on Estonia or another small NATO country bordering Russia, the attack wouldn’t necessarily come in the form of tanks and warplanes that NATO could easily identify and destroy.

U.S. President Barack Obama joins in a meeting on the situation in Ukraine at the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales, in the United KingdomRussia instead could do what it has done in Georgia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine and other former Soviet countries outside the NATO alliance. It could undermine them covertly before sending in a single soldier, a strategy Moscow has refined specifically to avoid a clear-cut military confrontation that it just might lose.

To be sure, a Russian invasion of Estonia or another NATO state would meet with overwhelming force from the United States, Canada and NATO’s European members. Alliance defense plans call for small, lightly armed units to act as “tripwires” — alerting commanders about the invading forces so that more numerous and heavily armed formations can rush in.

By themselves, the Baltic states are militarily weak. Between them, the three countries — which all joined NATO in 2004 — have just three outdated tanks and not a single frontline jet fighter. Bigger NATO countries take turns sending jets to Lithuania to patrol the three countries’ airspace.

But the alliance could reinforce Estonia or another small member state quickly. The U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy stands ready to deploy on short notice. NATO also has a multinational reaction force that could deploy 14,000 troops in five days.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a news conference on the second and final day of the NATO summit at the Celtic Manor resort, near NewportAt the Wales summit, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen promised to boost the readiness of 4,000 soldiers from the reaction force so that they can reach a battle zone in two days instead of five. “This force can travel light,” Rasmussen said, “but strike hard if needed.”

The United States possesses the bulk of NATO’s combat power. America keeps 67,000 troops in Europe on a permanent basis, along with 216 warplanes, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The Pentagon also regularly practices methods of rushing additional forces to Europe by plane and ship.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Army moved a battalion-sized stockpile of tanks, armored fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers to Germany. Then during the Combined Resolve II exercise this summer, the American military flew in troops to practice activating the pre-deployed tanks in case of a crisis.

This fall, the Army is repeating the exercise with another battalion. It is also shipping in hundreds more tanks and armored vehicles — temporarily — for exercises in Poland and the Baltic states.

U.S. soldiers leave a C-130 aircraft during the "Steadfast Javelin II" military exercise in the LielvardeWithin days of a Russian incursion into a country like Estonia, NATO could have hundreds of warplanes and thousands of soldiers ready to fight. Within a few months, the alliance could command thousands of warplanes and hundreds of thousands of troops — far exceeding any force Russia could hope to muster.

But Moscow is unlikely even to try matching NATO plane for plane or tank for tank. Instead, the Kremlin has developed a form of secret invasion it calls maskirovka. The strategy relies heavily on deception, deniability and special operations troops mixed with volunteer militias — armed with advanced weapons — to bring about political change outside Russia’s borders.

“The open use of forces — often under the guise of peacekeeping and crisis regulation — is resorted to only at a certain stage, primarily for the achievement of final success in the conflict,” General Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s military general staff, wrote in an essay February for the weekly newspaper Military-Industrial Courier.

The strategy is tailor-made for creating confusion among defending armies trained to fight a conventional — and now largely obsolete — foe. Russia also relies on the heavy use of propaganda and information warfare to make the defending state appear to be an illegitimate occupier.

Dutch Brigadier-General Tak, head of NATO's crisis management centre, attends a news conference in MonsWashington’s eastern European allies are worried Russia could launch a stealth invasion without triggering Article 5 — which would necessitate a NATO response — because the operation’s initial stages might not legally constitute an attack by a foreign state.

“It is the operationalization of a new form of warfare that cannot be characterized as a military campaign in the classic sense of the term,” an April report from the National Defense Academy of Latvia’s Center for Security and Strategic Research warned. “The invisible military occupation cannot be considered an occupation by definition.”

One key reason for Obama’s European trip was to reassure Washington’s eastern European allies otherwise. “Article 5 is crystal clear,” Obama said on Sept. 3. “An attack on one is an attack on all.”

But it’s unclear whether NATO’s legal framework would count the introduction of ad-hoc Russian militants and armed civilians as an attack. Or whether Article 5 would only trigger on the arrival of conventional Russian military forces in the latter stages of the conflict. By then, it might be too late.

Russia’s strategy is also aimed at European politicians.

Though a conventional attack would bound these leaders by treaty to defend each other, an unconventional — and plausibly deniable — stealth invasion would provide just enough wiggle room for politicians who may rather avoid confronting Russia.

Some leaders could prefer to seek a political settlement. But this could be after the conditions on the ground have already changed in Russia’s favor.

NATO is able to defend against Russia’s tanks, but it might not be able to defend against maskirovka.

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