WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russian from further aggression in the region, the New York Times reported Monday, citing unnamed officials.
The White House plans on paying for the additional weapons and equipment with a budget request of more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe in 2017, several officials said Monday, more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million. The weapons and equipment will be used by U.S. and NATO forces, ensuring that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade in the region at all times.
Though Russia's military activity has quieted in eastern Ukraine in recent months, Moscow continues to maintain a presence there, working with pro-Russian local forces. Administration officials said the additional NATO forces were calculated to send a signal to President Vladimir Putin that the West remained deeply suspicious of his motives in the region.
It isn't clear how Russia will react to the fortified military presence along NATO's eastern border. Since the signing of a cease-fire agreement last year, Putin's government has tried to ease tensions with the West. Officials said the Russian government was eager for the United States and Europe to roll back economic sanctions, which suggested that it would not escalate tensions over the new military commitments.
But outside analysts were surprised by the magnitude of the increase in military funding for Europe, which is part of an overall budget request of $580 billion for the Pentagon. Obama, according to a defense official, is also going to ask Congress for a 35 percent increase — $7 billion — to fight Islamic State militants.
Some analysts said the increased funding and deployments would certainly rattle Russia. Among the countries where the equipment and additional forces could be deployed are Hungary, Romania and the Baltic countries, Pentagon officials said.
"This is a really big deal, and the Russians are going to have a cow," said Evelyn Farkas, who until October was the Pentagon's top policy official on Russia and Ukraine. "It's a huge sign of commitment to deterring Russia, and to strengthening our alliance and our partnership with countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia."
While the increase in funding is significant, the administration is proposing that the money come out of a separate war-funding account that is meant to pay for operations in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. That means it is a one-time request, not necessarily a continuing commitment, officials said.
"It's a way to get around the budget caps" imposed on the Pentagon, said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.