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U.S. House Backs Increase In Defense Spending For European Deployments

The U.S. and NATO flags fly in front of two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jets at the Lithuanian air base in Siauliai in April in a show of support for a region worried by Russian aggression in Ukraine.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a new $602 billion defense policy bill that backs increased spending for bolstered military deployments in Europe.

The bill, which was approved by a vote of 277-147 on May 18, also highlights persistent concerns about Russian surveillance flights over the United States.

The House bill still must be reconciled with a Senate version before going to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Much of the wrangling over the House version of the bill centered on Democratic lawmakers’ efforts to rein in the war powers that Obama has used to wage battle against militants from the so-called Islamic State, and efforts to close the U.S. military's detention center at Guantanamo, Cuba.

But the bill also takes aim at Russian actions in Europe, backing a quadrupling in spending requested by the Defense Department to help calm nervous NATO allies in Eastern Europe.

The bill also reflects nervousness among some policymakers and legislators about surveillance flights that Russia has requested to make over the United States under a 2002 treaty.

That treaty aims to increase openness and build trust about the military capabilities of both countries.

Both Russia and the United States conduct such flights on a routine basis.

But in February, after Moscow requested permission to conduct another flight over U.S. territory, some officials in Washington voiced fear that Russian flights would use a high-tech camera with sensors to significantly boost the Kremlin's surveillance capabilities.

The U.S. State Department has said Russia isn’t fully compliant with the Open Skies Treaty, though top State Department officials have tried to reassure lawmakers about its usefulness.

The House version of the bill calls for withholding funding from the Defense Department for matters related to the treaty until defense officials report to Congress that the Russian flights wouldn’t violate the treaty.

It also requires U.S. officials to force Russia to allow U.S. flights over Russian regions such as Kaliningrad, the Baltic Sea exclave that Moscow has been fortifying with weaponry and more troops in recent months.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent in Prague, where he reports on developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and money laundering. Before joining RFE/RL in 2015, he worked for the Associated Press in Moscow. He has also reported and edited for The Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera America, Voice of America, and the Vladivostok News.