US tanks join NATO forces as Moscow plays war games

US Army military vehicles are unloaded in the port in Gdansk, Poland.
US Army military vehicles are unloaded in the port in Gdansk, Poland. Krzysztof Mystkowski

A UNITED States tank brigade has arrived in Poland, amid fears Moscow may be about to attempt another land grab.

The M1 Abrams main battle tanks and supporting armoured vehicles of the 2nd Armoured Brigade Combat Team have docked in northern Poland to swell NATO's presence among its East European member states.

The 1000 pieces of US military equipment are part of the largest reinforcement of Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.

Behind it all is Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its ongoing "shadow war” supporting pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine.

Although in the works for many months, the arrival of the tanks comes just before the controversial Zapad 2017 Russian war games with its ally and neighbour Belarus. These were due to start overnight.

Poland has expressed fears the manoeuvres are practice for a future invasion to expand the Russian Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad.

It has also highlighted how regions of Belarus with large populations of Poles have been designated "terrorist insurgents” as part of the games' scenario.

Others have expressed fears any attempt to conceal the true size of forces taking part in the Belarus manoeuvres may indicate a massive - and permanent - repositioning of Russian troops, and possibly even disguise a takeover of the pro-Moscow ally itself.

While Russia claims the military manoeuvres will involve just 12,700 troops - just under the 13,000 figure that triggers treaty agreements for international observers - Germany and France have come out claiming the real figure is much closer to 100,000.

Moscow is attempting to explain away the presence of extra troops and equipment by saying these belong to separate, although simultaneous, "snap drills”.

Russia used a similar convergence of military "snap drills” above and beyond disclosed figures around its Kavkaz 2008 exercise to disguise the start of its brief war with Georgia.

The US tanks are joining four multinational battalions recently deployed to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia amid a resurgence of Cold War-style armed posturing.

They are there to emphasise NATO's determination to defend its allies - and Russia's closest Western neighbours.

The newly arrived tank brigade will be based in Gdansk. It will join the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in touring nations ranging from Bulgaria and Estonia

"This will be the first time two armoured brigades transition within the European theatre sending a full complement of soldiers and equipment into Germany and Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve,” European operations spokesman Master Sergeant Brent Williams told the Stars and Stripes news service.

It further reinforces the defence forces of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, along with 4000 forward-deployed NATO troops from Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States.

The brigade's arrival comes as relations between the West and Russia reach a new low since the end of the Cold War.

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