Biden signals plans for more US military drills in the Baltics
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 19, 2014
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. is crafting plans to deploy rotational ground troops and naval forces into the Baltics as part of an effort to bolster the capabilities of regional allies and reassure nations shaken by Russia’s intervention in nearby Ukraine, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said.
“We are exploring a number of additional steps to increase the pace and scope of our military co-operation, including rotating U.S. forces to the Baltic region to conduct ground and naval exercises — as well as training missions,” Biden said Wednesday during talks with Polish and Estonian officials.
Biden’s tour through the region includes a stop onWednesday in Lithuania, where the U.S. already is taking part in a NATO air policing mission.
According to a senior administration official, the plan for an increased presence in the Baltics is primarily focused on building up the defenses of localallies in the region. More details are expected within a matter of days, the official said.
“So this would be in addition to the Baltic air policing element, it would be a ground and naval effort. And what the Vice President said is that we’ve begun the process of exploring how we can do that in a way that’s effective both for our forces and for the Baltic forces,” said the official, whose comments were provided in transcript form by the Office of the vice president’s office.
For the U.S. and NATO, Russia’s annexation of Crimea has rattled assumptions about security in Europe and refocused attention on the Continent. For allies in eastern Europe, it has awakened old fears of a Russia with imperial ambitions.
“The old idea of NATO … predicated on a Europe that no longer has any threats has turned out, with the actions we’ve seen against Ukraine, no longer to apply,” Estonian President Toomas Ilves told Biden during histhe vice president’s stop in Warsaw.
“We in NATO must draw our conclusions from Russia’s behavior in the current crisis and conduct a review of the entire range of NATO-Russia relations,” he said.
In response to the Ukrainian crisis, the U.S. has tried to reassure allies through various measures, such as deploying 12 F-16s to Poland for a training exercise. The Navy also has increased its presence in the region for what has been described as a series of pre-planned training events.
On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said that three regularly-conducted annual exercises in the region will go forward in the coming months.
In April, a rotational force of Marines will participate in Summer Shield; a joint U.S.-Latvian exercise held in Latvia.
In June, U.S. Navy-Europe will lead a multinational maritime exercise called BALTOPS, aimed at improving interoperability among allies in the Baltic Sea.
Also in June, U.S. Army-Europe will lead Saber Strike, a multinational security cooperation exercise focusing on the three Baltic States.
Warren did not know if Sea Breeze, a multinational exercise involving Ukraine that usually takes place in the Black Sea in July, will be conducted.
The Ukrainian government has requested military equipment and supplies from the U.S. The State Department and the Defense Department are reviewing those requests and will decide on next steps, Warren said.
Warren would not provide details about the requests, but said, “it was a broad range of stuff, a broad range of equipment that you would expect in this situation.”
But while Russia’s intervention has sparked fears of a return to Cold War-style tensions and military posturing, there is little sign Europe or the U.S. has any appetite for a military confrontation. Indeed, nNo significant political leader in the U.S. or western Europe has suggested there is a military solution to the political crisis.
Stars and Stripes reporter Jon Harper contributed to this report from Washington.