, tanks, and heavy armored vehicles crossed into from Germany
The Kremlin has hit out at the biggest deployment of US in Europe since the end of the cold war, branding the arrival of and tanks in as a threat to Russia’s national security.
The force, intended to counter what Nato portrays as Russian aggression in eastern Europe, marks the first time that US will be permanently stationed along Russia’s western border.
About 1,000 of a promised 4,000 arrived in at the start of the week, and a formal ceremony to welcome them is to be held on Saturday.
Some people waved and held up American flags as the , tanks and heavy armored vehicles crossed into south-western from Germany.
In Moscow, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We perceive it as a threat. These actions threaten our interests, our security. Especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders. It’s [the US], not even a European state.”
The Kremlin may hold back on retaliatory action in the hope that a Donald Trump presidency will herald a rapprochement with Washington. Trump, in remarks during the election campaign and since, has sown seeds of doubt over the deployments by suggesting he would rather work with, than confront, Putin.
But on Thursday Nato officials played down Trump’s comments, saying they hoped and expected that he would not attempt to reverse the move after he became president on 20 January.
That prediction was reinforced by Trump’s proposed defense secretary, General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, and proposed secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who backed Nato during Senate confirmation hearings.
Mattis, in rhetoric at odds with the president-elect, said the west should recognize the reality that Putin is trying to break Nato.
Tillerson, who has business dealings in Russia, described Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “as an act of force” and said that when Russia flexes its muscles, the US must mount “a proportional show of force”.
Nato was caught out by the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has struggled to cope with Russia’s use of hybrid warfare, which combines propaganda, cyberwarfare and the infiltration of regular disguised as local rebels.
In response, the US and its Nato allies have been steadily increasing air patrols and training exercises in eastern Europe. The biggest escalation is the current deployment of US , agreed at during last summer’s Nato summit in Warsaw.
The move was billed as an attempt to reassure eastern European states who have been calling for the permanent deployment of US in the belief that Russia would be less likely to encroach on territory where US are present.
The UK is also contributing to the buildup of Nato forces in eastern Europe. The UK formally took command this week of Nato’s response force, made up of 3,000 UK plus others from Nato who will be on permanent standby ready to deploy within days. The contributing countries include the US, Denmark, Spain, Norway, and .