The Army is sending advisers and a brigade of combat helicopters to Eastern Europe to work alongside NATO allies as tensions show no sign of easing between an aggressive Russia and its wary neighbors.
Teams from the 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB,) based at Fort Carson, Colorado, and the 1st Cavalry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, will be deploying to Europe in the fall as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve — a multinational NATO mission created in the wake of Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.
Army officials this week would only confirm that the 4th SFAB will be sent to “multiple locations” throughout the region.
The annual Atlantic Resolve missions are an answer to the drastic drawdown of U.S. military units in Europe following the collapse of the former Soviet Union. There was a belief, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, that Russia was no longer the threat to Europe it posed during the Cold War and bringing home forces was part of a “peace dividend” for ending the ideological standoff.
“They were putting in place this reset as a cost-saving issue,” said Daniel Kochis, a senior policy analyst in European affairs at The Heritage Foundation. “But lo and behold, the Russians had other plans. They invaded Ukraine.”
There are about 7,000 soldiers taking part in Atlantic Resolve rotations at any given time. They come from an aviation brigade, an armored brigade and a logistics task force. In 2015, the U.S. Army established a forward-based division headquarters to take charge of the missions, based in Poznan, Poland.
The rotations are reminiscent of the Cold War-era Reforger Exercises, which annually rushed stateside U.S. troops to Europe to practice fighting off a Warsaw Pact invasion. Atlantic Resolve has grown dramatically since its inception.
“You’re getting a lot of local knowledge. This is extremely important for the U.S. to remain engaged and how it has skin in the game,” Mr. Kochis said.
The 1st Cavalry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade will be replacing a similar unit in the 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Russia has staged a number of provocative military exercises along its western borders and continues to clash with U.S. and European leaders over its role in Ukraine’s separatist revolt and the suppression of popular protests in Belarus. The Biden administration and the Kremlin are also locked in a dispute over embassy operations, including a running quarrel over the number of diplomats they can post to the other’s capital and country.
In talks Tuesday with visiting Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, Russia said it offered to roll back several rounds of sanctions that have hampered the activities of their respective diplomatic missions, the Associated Press reported. The two sides agreed to hold another round of talks to discuss a resolution to their diplomatic tug of war.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told the Associated Press there was an “open discussion” at Ms. Nuland’s meetings in Moscow, which he called “useful.”
“Our stance on the staffing of our mission remains firm,” he told reporters in Washington. “We expect parity on staffing numbers and we expect visa reciprocity. There must be fairness, there must be flexibility on the Russian side if we are to achieve an equitable agreement and that’s precisely what we are after.”
But the new troop deployments are a sign the Pentagon is still wary of Moscow’s ultimate intentions.
“For the states bordering Russia, there’s a real belief that there still remains a conventional threat,” Mr. Kochis said. “The idea is that if you have U.S. ‘boots on the ground,’ it’s a far greater deterrent value than the local forces of that nation.”
Moscow has offered to roll back some of the sanctions imposed during the dispute with the U.S. over the past few years. But during Tuesday’s meetings, Russian diplomats warned that ties could even worsen if the U.S. continues to maintain a “confrontational” policy towards them.
“Any hostile anti-Russian actions won’t be left unanswered but Moscow doesn’t want any further escalation,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
The U.S. should seriously consider setting up a permanent military presence in Eastern Europe rather than relying on rotating troops into the region, Mr. Kochis said, arguing it might be cost-effective to simply leave them there.
But with the U.S. now looking at China as its primary threat, Mr. Kochis said he doesn’t envision the Biden administration changing the Atlantic Resolve mission anytime soon.
“I think we’re in a holding pattern now,” he said. “The U.S. is probably going to continue with this level of rotational forces — neither an increase or decrease.”