Stories like the McKinney pool party, the tragedy in Charleston and the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling have dominated the public’s attention in recent weeks, prompting many news outlets to throw the conflict in eastern Europe onto the back burner.
But don’t let the lack of coverage fool you: tensions in the region are higher than ever.
On Tuesday (6/23), U.S. defence secretary Ashton Carter announced that the United States would be deploying heavy weaponry to central and eastern Europe, something that hasn’t been done since the Cold War.
“We will temporarily stage one armoured brigade combat team’s vehicles and associated equipment in countries in central and eastern Europe,” Carter said during a joint press conference with defence ministers from the three Baltic nations (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).
“This pre-positioned European activity set includes tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery,” Carter said, adding that the Baltic Nations, as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, had already, “agreed to host company- to battalion-sized elements of this equipment.”
The deployment of heavy weapons by the U.S. may be a reaction to increased activity by the Russian military in recent weeks.
On Thursday (6/25), the Swedish news outlet The Local published an article claiming that roughly 33,000 Russian soldiers recently took part in a series of major war games in eastern Europe. According to The Local, the war games included simulated takeovers of the Baltic Sea area, including parts of Sweden.
The report was published on the same day that NATO defense ministers were meeting in Brussels to discuss the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. During the meeting, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg warned that, “there is still a risk of a return to heavy fighting.”
During Tuesday’s announcement, Carter attempted to downplay the U.S. deployment of heavy weaponry, saying that the equipment will be used for training exercises. He was firm, however, in reiterating the U.S.’s support for its NATO allies:
“While we do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia, we will defend our allies.”
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has been raging since a popular uprising forced former president Viktor Yanukovych to resign in February 2014. Many Ukrainians living near Ukraine’s border with Russia viewed the uprising as an illegal coup, and have refused to recognize the new government in Ukraine’s capital of Kiev.
Fighting in the east has continued to rage despite a ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk this February. So far, more than 6,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict.