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US deploys troops, tanks to Lithuania in message to Russia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Members of the US Army 1st Division unload heavy combat equipment including Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles at the railway station near the Pabrade military base in Lithuania, on October 21, 2019. (AFP photo)

The United States has begun deploying some 500 troops and dozens of tanks to Lithuania for an unprecedented six-month rotation in the EU and NATO state, a move by the US to deter neighboring Russia.  

Dozens of Abrams tanks and Bradley armored vehicles arrived by railway on Monday at the army training area in Pabrade.

Lithuania's Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said the deployment of American troops scheduled to stay through the winter proves that a US military presence on NATO's eastern flank "is no longer a taboo".

"First and foremost, it is a message to Lithuania and neighboring NATO states that allies are together with us," the minister told AFP.

"And it is also a message to Russia that the US is engaged, and it is an additional deterrence element," he added.

The US deployment was a "manifestation of American commitment to continued deterrence along NATO's eastern flank," said Ben Hodges, the former commander of US Army forces in Europe.

"Nobody, including the Russians, should be confused by the Americans' commitment to NATO despite what was I think a mistake of pulling out of Syria," Hodges told AFP via telephone.

Two years ago, NATO deployed a German-led multinational battalion of around 1,000 troops to Lithuania, an EU and NATO nation of 2.8 million people.

The Western military alliance installed similar battalions in Poland and Baltic states Estonia and Latvia as a deterrent against possible Russian aggression after Crimea joined the Russian Federation following a referendum on March 16, 2014.

NATO ended cooperation with Russia over the ensuing crisis in Ukraine on April 1, 2014.

On Saturday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow views with alarm NATO’s expansion toward its western border and it will make not only a political response but a military one as well if need be.

In an interview with the Serbian newspaper Vecernje Novosti, the Russian official said NATO’s maneuver toward Russia’s border is a threat to its “national security.”

The Russian prime minister further warned NATO to think twice before adding certain countries into the alliance. He said “all attempts to draw into NATO countries that have internal political tensions are very dangerous” and fraught with very “serious consequences.”

Medvedev also lashed out at the United States for what he called a drive to dominate the world, saying Washington’s “aspirations to dominate the whole world” brings “harm” to European countries.

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