As the threat of a Russian invasion of Belarus increases due to massive democratic, anti-regime protests there, the U.S. is conducting military exercises in neighboring Baltic NATO members Estonia and Lithuania. Hours after announcing the U.S. rocket drills in Estonia – about 70 miles from the Russian border – on Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement criticizing the maneuvers.
Russia accused the U.S. of “saber-rattling” and warned that the U.S. would not want any similar “shooting’ by Russia’s military near U.S. borders, noted Newsweek. The U.S. reportedly rejected Russia’s warnings – stating that these exercises were previously planned and required no notification according to any existing treaty commitments.
Newsweek added that the “U.S. Army Europe’s 41st Field Artillery Battalion began deploying a battery of multiple launch rocket systems Tuesday near Estonia’s village of Tapa to conduct training exercises as part of Operation Rail Rush.”
“The live-fire rocket drill ‘held jointly by about 70 personnel from U.S. Army 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment and Estonian Defense Forces’ 1st Infantry Brigade, is the U.S. battalion’s first outside of Germany.’ “
The U.S. Army artillery unit in Estonia is believed to be firing its reduced-range practice rockets, or RPRR, from their M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, as they did in Germany in June.
Meanwhile the U.S. Army today is deploying about 500 troops to Lithuania which borders Belarus, as part of NATO military operation Atlantic Resolve, reports Fox News. “These troops are reportedly arriving earlier and remaining in Lithuania longer – a change that followed the re-election of Russian ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko,” according to a report by Reuters
Lithuanian Minister of National Defense, Raimundas Karoblis said Thursday, according to Fox, “The rotation of the U.S. troops in Lithuania is a deterrence factor of particular significance contributing to NATO efforts in the Baltic region.”
These moves are also part of President Trump’s plan to redeploy some forces from Germany and reinforce NATO allies who are closer to Russia and meeting their defense commitments. Fox reported that “U.S. Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy said that the move was in direct coordination with Lithuania, due to their efforts to make the two percent GDP defense spending threshold that NATO member nations have agreed to pay.”
“This level of cooperation, training, security and, ultimately, stability has been made possible by the commitment of Lithuania in the investment of more than 2 percent of GDP on defense spending and modernization of its armed forces,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday in Vilnius after meeting with Lithuanian ministry officials, according to the Baltic Times.
McCarthy also said that U.S. service members will deploy to Lithuania for the next “several years” to engage in “training side-by-side with our great ally.”