The United States is reportedly planning to store heavy military equipment in Eastern Europe to reassure allies made uneasy by Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Citing U.S. and allied officials, The New York Times reported on June 13 that the United States is "poised to station battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries."
The U.S. newspaper says the proposal, if approved, would represent “the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence.”
The paper also describes the possible Pentagon move as "the most prominent of a series of moves" by Washington and NATO "to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe."
Meanwhile, the Polish Defense Ministry said on June 14 that the country is in talks with the United States about stationing U.S. Army equipment warehouses in Poland.
The Polish ministry also said on Twitter that Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak received assurances during a visit to Washington last month that a decision on stationing the warehouses would be taken soon.
Over the past year, relations between Moscow and the West have dropped to their lowest point since the Cold War following Russia's mostly unrecognized annexation of the Crimea Peninsula in March 2014 and Moscow’s alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments accuse Russia of backing the pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine’s east with weapons, personnel, and training in an effort to undermine Kyiv’s pro-Western government.
The Kremlin denies the charge, claiming Russia’s military is not fighting in the conflict despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Fighting between pro-government forces and rebels has killed more than 6,400 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
Commenting on The New York Times report, a senior U.S. official told the Reuters news agency that the United States “will preposition significant equipment," but declined to comment on the details of the report.
The so-called "prepositioned stocks" of equipment would be minor compared to what Russia could mobilize against its neighbors but could send a signal of U.S. commitment.
The Times quotes a former supreme allied commander of NATO, retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, as calling it "a very meaningful shift in policy" in an effort to reassure "jittery allies."
Asked about the article, a Pentagon spokesman said, "Over the last few years, the United States military has increased the prepositioning of equipment for training and exercises with our NATO allies and partners."
"The U.S. military continues to review the best location to store these materials in consultation with our allies," Colonel Steve Warren also said in a statement.
He added that no decision had been made “about if or when to move this equipment."
The Times says the Pentagon proposal still needs approval from U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and President Barack Obama.
NATO defense ministers are expected to gather in Brussels later this month.
The New York Times says the proposal as it stands suggests that "a company's worth of equipment -- enough for about 150 soldiers -- would be stored in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Enough for a company or possibly a battalion -- about 750 soldiers -- would be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and possibly Hungary."
With reporting by The New York Times and Reuters