MADRID — The U.S. will send more destroyers, air defense systems and redeploy troops further east in the coming months, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday at NATO’s annual summit in Madrid.
“I said Putin’s looking for the Finlandization of Europe,” Biden said. “He’s going to get the NATOization of Europe. And that is exactly what he didn’t want, but exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe. And I think it’s necessary.”
The moves will add significant firepower to the continent and signal a deepened American commitment to NATO’s eastern front countries, which are worried Russia could continue its march westward if they’re successful in Ukraine.
“My position is that once Russia gets the whole Ukraine, they will proceed farther. Moldova, Baltic countries, Poland, Slovakia, Romania,” Jaroslav Nad, Slovakia’s defense minister, told POLITICO on the sidelines of the conference. “We have to stop them.”
Slovakia sent its Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft system to Ukraine this spring, and has been backstopped by Patriot batteries from Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S. Nad said he’s prepared to send T-72 tanks as well, if they can be replaced by the West.
While Biden’s new moves don’t include Slovakia, an American brigade combat team will head to Romania as the first of what will be a new rotational American presence in the country, a capability that Bucharest has long asked for. The U.S. Army will also further entrench itself in Poland, setting up a permanent V Corps headquarters, an Army garrison headquarters and a field support battalion there.
The U.S. had already deployed an armored brigade and aviation brigade to Poland in 2017, and the new commands will help with logistics and the planning of exercises across the east.
The Pentagon said it will also “enhance its rotational deployments — which include armored, aviation, air defense, and special operations forces” to the Baltic region, stage new air defense units in both Germany and Italy, and send two new F-35 squadrons to the U.K.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the U.S. has deployed 20,000 additional forces to Europe, bringing the total to over 100,000.
Probably the biggest and most visible part of the new deployments will be two more Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that will be homeported in Rota, Spain, making a total of six U.S. warships capable of performing air defense missions and launching cruise missiles well inland. The destroyers will help patrol the Mediterranean where Russian cruisers and submarines have been more active over the last year, and provide missile defense for southern European allies.
In the weeks before the invasion, the U.S. sent four destroyers to Europe, marking the largest naval presence in Europe since 2018. Those ships eventually went home to the U.S.
After Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, the Navy began pushing its Rota-based destroyers into the Black Sea, a practice that ended once Russia again invaded Ukraine in February. But with Turkey closing the entrance to the Black Sea to military shipping once the war started, the deployments ended.
The invasion also led Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to extend the Mediterranean deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group through the summer.