US upping the ante in terms of brinkmanship in Eastern Europe

The US and NATO are encroaching on the sovereignty of Eastern European nations by upping their troop presence in the region, investigative journalist Rick Rozoff has told RT.

RT: The US and NATO have been steadily building up their military presence in Eastern Europe over the past decade with a view to asserting greater pressure on Russia and Belarus. We've seen several NATO drills in Eastern Europe since the crisis began in Ukraine. What do you think is the aim of these exercises?

Rick Rozoff: The military drills that are occurring from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and in several countries in between, Poland for example, are in many cases pre-arranged or pre-scheduled military drills. Though in these cases, it's indicative of the permanent US and NATO military presence that's been developing in Eastern Europe over the last 15 years, particularly over the last decade.

We have also seen intensification of military drills and of the amount of military hardware and personnel that are being deployed. For example, we currently have 600 US airborne troops from 173rd airborne military unit - these are rapid reaction combat forces - stationed 150 each in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Just recently concluded in Poland were multi-national paratroop drills with the US, Canada and Poland. We've seen naval drills in the Black Sea with Romania and a US warship. The USS Taylor is currently docked in the city of Batoumi and Adjara in Northern Georgia, dangerously close to Russia territory.

So what you're seeing is both a series of ongoing drills, but also intensification in terms of numbers and in terms of size.

RT: What could Eastern European states like Romania gain from becoming training grounds for NATO troops?

Troops from Canada's 3rd Division, composed with a platoon of 3rd Battalion and Princess Patricia's Light Infantry, participate at a NATO-led exercise "Orzel Alert" held together with the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and Poland's 6th Airborne Brigade in Bledowska Desert in Chechlo, near Olkusz, south Poland May 5, 2014 (AFP Photo / Kacper Pempel)

Rick Rozoff: A fair amount of money, I suspect. The US reached an agreement through the State Department in 2008 with the government in Bucharest to essentially take control of four major military bases in Romania which the US has not only ensconced itself in the interim, but has massively upgraded by spending millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, to modernize and expand those bases. They include naval and air bases which have already been used in military operations against Afghanistan and Libya. They have already been used for war fighting purposes and exist for exactly that purpose.

What do the local residents get? Maybe, a few minor concessions. They can sell Pepsi Cola to US servicemen or something.

But in return, what happens in nations like Romania is that they are placed in a situation where – should a military conflict erupt regionally – the people of Romania may be in harm's way by having their government make a deal with the Pentagon that is not to the benefit of the Romanian people in this instance.

RT: Is there a risk for the newer NATO members that they can see their sovereignty weakened, by losing control over military matters?

Rick Rozoff: We've seen the sovereignty of Eastern European countries trodden on and seriously jeopardized through the entire process of NATO and even the European Union integration. Keeping in mind that ten years ago in 2004, the largest ever one time expansion of NATO included seven new members at one time, Romania being one of those seven. The others of course were Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, that is three former Soviet Republics and the Baltic Sea as well as two countries on the Black Sea.
What we have seen is a steady encroachment on the military which has been transformed in these countries to achieve what is termed by Washington and NATO as “interoperability” which is to say the same military equipment which is approved by NATO nations will be purchased in lieu of Russian arms.

Troops from the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team parachute during a NATO-led exercise "Orzel Alert" held together with Canada's 3rd Battalion and Princess Patricia's Light Infantry, and Poland's 6th Airborne Brigade in Bledowska Desert in Chechlo, near Olkusz, south Poland May 5, 2014 (Reuters / Kacper Pempel)

Poland for example, at the beginning of the century, purchased 48 F-16 multi-role combat aircraft from the US. That's the largest military purchase in Poland's history. Poland can only have been under pressure from the US to make such a monumental arms purchase. Also the 48 F-16s are certainly not for the Polish deployments in Afghanistan where they have never sent a jet fighter, they are aimed squarely at Russia and Belarus, there's no doubt about that.

A comparable pressure had been placed on Romania and Bulgaria to purchase anywhere from 24 to 36 F-16 American warplanes, but because of the downturn in the world economy six years ago that's been deferred.

What we're seeing is that western armaments manufacturers are having a field day with NATO expansion by mandating that all new NATO members purchase only arms produced in NATO countries and NATO-affiliated countries like Sweden.

RT: How does the US stationing troops all over the Eastern Europe affect stability in the region?

Rick Rozoff: These are so many powder kegs that could be ignited by a comparatively minor incident. The fact that US troops are stationed in almost every former country outside of the Soviet Union itself. At any given time, there are US warplanes, troops, warships stationed or docked in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and, in terms of NATO candidates members, Georgia.

These aren't tremendously large military forces yet, but keep in mind that next year the US and NATO are going to place 24 intermediate range standard missile 3 interceptor missiles in Romania, right across the Black Sea from Russia with the prospect of three years later of deploying the same amount of standard missile 3s in Poland.

What we're talking about is a very real military presence that poses a military threat to non-NATO members in the neighborhood and those are in the first instance Belarus and Russia. But also it's a symbolic gesture to place US troops in countries bordering Ukraine right now and bordering Russia because what it suggests is that the US is making a military commitment to protect its NATO allies by making even a nominal deployment of military contingents to those countries.

It is definitely upping the ante in terms of brinkmanship.

A soldier from the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team parachutes from a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during a NATO-led exercise "Orzel Alert" held together with Canada's 3rd Battalion and Princess Patricia's Light Infantry, and Poland's 6th Airborne Brigade in Bledowska Desert in Chechlo, near Olkusz, south Poland May 5, 2014 (Reuters / Kacper Pempel)

RT: How likely is it that Ukraine will become a member of NATO?

Rick Rozoff: The only thing that stood in the way of Ukraine being given a membership action program in 2008 at the Bucharest summit of NATO was the fact there were still unresolved territorial issues. It was never openly stated that Crimea was the fifth of what are called the "frozen conflicts" in former Soviet space in addition to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria.

The fact the Russian Black Sea fleet was still based in Sevastopol was a stumbling block for the full incorporation of Ukraine as a full NATO member. There may be some strategists in the West that decide that better that Crimea break away from Ukraine than be absorbed into NATO.

But this doesn't seem to be a likely prospect as the majority of the Ukrainian people, particularly in the East and South, have demonstrated not only in polls, but in their activities, that they have no desire to be in a US-dominated military block that is aimed against their neighbor, their friend and their kin, Russia.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.