- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2016

There has been no contact between Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu since Russian forces began harassing U.S. warships and aircraft operating in eastern Europe, a sign of increasingly frosty relations between the former Cold War foes.

Washington has “raised concerns through the appropriate channels” in Moscow over Russia’s aggressive actions toward U.S. forces operating in and around the Baltic Sea, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Thursday.

But those channels did not include reaching out to Mr. Shoigu, he told reporters at the Pentagon.

Mr. Carter “spoke with Minister Mr. Shoigu in the past. But right now we don’t believe that that would serve any particular purpose at this point in time,” he said in regard to ongoing diplomatic efforts to quell tensions in the region.

Mr. Cook’s comments come a day after Moscow announced plans to create three new military divisions to protect its southern and western borders. The new divisions, totaling roughly 30,000 troops will be in place by the end of this year, Mr. Shoigu said in a televised interview with Russian media outlets.

The bulk of those new forces will be deployed to Russia’s Western Military District, which sits along the country’s borders with Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states and Finland, Mr. Shoigu said.

Mr. Shoigu pulled no punches in explaining Moscow’s troop buildup along its western flanks, telling reporters the effort was clearly driven by NATO plans to deploy thousands of troops into the Baltic region.

“There was no particular response” from the Pentagon or U.S. European Command, or EUCOM, to the announcement of the new Russian divisions, Mr. Cook said.

“The unfortunate situation which the United States finds itself having to move from reassurance to deterrence,” in the Baltics and elsewhere in the region, he said.

“What we’re doing is in response to Russian actions in the region [overall], whether it be in Crimea or elsewhere,” Mr. Cook said. “This is a tangible example of the U.S. commitment to try and bolster the security situation in that part of the world and to show our solidarity with our NATO allies.”

The Russian troop announcement came a day after Mr. Carter said Monday that NATO is weighing the establishment of a rotational ground force in the Baltic states and possibly Poland as a deterrent to Russian aggression there.

The proposed force would consist of four battalions, or 4,000 troops, and would be in addition to the 4,200-man U.S. Army armored brigade Pentagon officials plan to deploy separately to the region next February, Mr. Carter told reporters Tuesday in Stuttgart.

Mr. Carter held a private meeting Wednesday with Danish Minister of Defense Peter Christensen to discuss possible deployments of Danish F-16 fighters to the Baltics, according to a Pentagon readout of the meeting.

U.S. European Command [EUCOM] Chief Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said Wednesday the new troops would allow U.S. and NATO to be “ready to fight should deterrence fail,” adding Moscow continues to exhibit “aggressive behavior that challenges international norms,” and threatens to upend the region, he said during a Wednesday ceremony at EUCOM headquarters in Stuttgart.

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