The commander of US ground forces in Europe appears to be calling for more troops positioned along the Russian border.
During an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit on Wednesday, Gen. Ben Hodges said Russia would be able to capture Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania “quicker than we could get there to defend them.”
Military analysts have determined the Russian military would be able to take over the Baltic states in 36 to 60 hours.
Hodges said NATO would be unable to send the military equipment required to defend the Eastern European countries.
Earlier this month NATO signaled it would send four multi-national battalions to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The move came as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia said they are putting their armies on a war footing and approximately 30,000 NATO troops participated in the Anakonda-16 exercise in Poland. The war game includes troops from the US, Canada, UK, Germany, Spain, Turkey, and Ukraine. Maneuvers included air assault, airborne, air defense, and amphibious operations.
“Air assault operations, supported by attack aviation, rapidly reposition personnel and equipment to enable the combined arms team to strike over extended distances and terrain to attack the enemy [Russia] where and when it is most vulnerable,” the US Army web page reported on June 13.
In response to the maneuvers, Russia began building a new base at Klintsy near the border with Ukraine, 750 miles to the east of the NATO operation. Russia established two additional bases on the border last year.
Russia says it needs to protect itself from NATO’s eastward advance. It recently pulled out of the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, a post-Cold War pact limiting the deployment of troops in Europe.
In February, the war think tank RAND conducted a tabletop war game on a potential Russian offensive into the Baltics. “The game made clear that NATO would struggle to prevent Russian forces from occupying the Baltics if it relied on the conventional forces now available,” Robert Farley writes.
“In the event of a potential Russian incursion in the Baltics, the United States and its allies lack sufficient troop numbers, or tanks and armored vehicles, to slow the advance of Russian armor, said the report by Rand’s David Shlapak and Michael Johnson,” adds Dan de Luce, writing for Foreign Policy.
US commanders are responding by drawing up budget requests for fiscal year 2018. The plans call for more troops and hardware sent to Eastern Europe. The funding request includes investments in space systems, cyber weapons, and ballistic missile defense “designed to check a resurgent Russia,” according to Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
During the closing session of the Russian Duma this week, Vladimir Putin told MPs the country must respond to NATO’s “aggressive rhetoric.”
“Russia is ready to discuss this extremely important issue,” he said in regard to the creation of a collective security system absent the “bloc-like thinking” of the past and open to all countries.
“But again, as it was at the beginning of WWII, we don’t see any positive response,” he continued. “On the contrary, NATO ups its aggressive rhetoric and aggressive actions near our borders.”
“In this environment, we must pay special attention to strengthening our country’s defense capabilities,” he said.