"Defensive?" — NATO Moves More Forces Closer to Russia
April 11, 2014 • 7:49AM

Alexander Vershbow, the deputy secretary general of NATO, reacted angrily to Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov's charge on Thursday, that NATO is moving "large NATO military capabilities" closer to Russia. Vershbow tweeted in response to Antonov:

"I totally dismiss claim by deputy defense minister Antonov that NATO plans to deploy large military contingents close to Russia's borders. NATO's core task is collective defense. We're taking legitimate steps to deal with instability created by Russia's illegal actions."

For map of NATO's expansion, click here: NATO Expansionism Encircles Russia · MAP

Vershbow's protest notwithstanding, NATO is indeed developing plans to deploy more military capabilities into Eastern Europe. This was indicated by NATO Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove, in an interview with AP in Paris, yesterday. Breedlove has been tasked by the North Atlantic Council to come up with a list of measures to "reassure" NATO members to the east by April 15.

Breedlove told AP:

"Essentially what we are looking at is a package of land, air and maritime measures that would build assurance for our easternmost allies. I'm tasked to deliver this by next week. I fully intend to deliver it early."

Asked by AP if American soldiers might be sent to NATO's front-line states closest to Russia, he said:

"I would not write off contributions from any nation."

Breedlove gave the AP interviewer a set of satellite photos, taken in March, that purportedly show the Russian military build-up near the Ukrainian border, but what the troops are doing or why they're there remains unclear. The CSIS's Anthony Cordesman told AP that the photos show forces that appear to be in combat readiness "but that's all they show." Breedlove apparently agreed, saying that the Kremlin's objectives aren't clear. In any case, Breedlove — quite defensively — went out of his way to say that NATO's intentions are "defensive." He said the toughest piece of pulling together the package he has to present, next week, was figuring out how to deploy the ground forces in a way that doesn't provoke the Russians. "And everything we are trying to do in the air, on the ground and at sea we are trying to completely characterize as defensive in nature," he said.

The air and naval deployments are increasing in intensity, however, and they might provoke Russia before the ground troops arrive. U.S. Air Forces Europe announced Thursday that 18 F-16's from Spangdahlem, Germany would be deploying to Poland's Lask Air Base in June for exercises. This is in addition to the 12 that are already there from Aviano, Italy, for which a return date has yet to be announced. Two KC-135 air refueling tankers will also be deploying to Powidz air base, where 3 C-130 cargo planes and a couple of hundred troops are also deployed. The BMD destroyer USS Donald Cook, meanwhile, was reported to be heading towards the Turkish Straits, today, for entry into the Black Sea.