As the US appears to be shifting its policy and considering massive arms deployments to defend NATO allies in Eastern Europe from Russian aggression, Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to use force in response.
"We will be forced to aim our armed forces…at those territories from where the threat comes," warned Putin on Tuesday at a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto who was visiting Moscow.
The Russian president said he was concerned about NATO's plans to install a missile defense system in Europe, saying "it is NATO that is moving towards our border and we aren’t moving anywhere."
He also said on Tuesday that Russia would add 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to its nuclear arsenal in 2015, even as the country is dealing with an economic crisis caused by weaker oil prices and international sanctions over Russia's invasion of Crimea and involvement in the Ukrainian fighting.
US policy shift
Meanwhile the US is continuing to show a shift from US President Barack Obama's hands-off foreign policy approach, with officials revealing the US Air Force is weighing deployment of the stealth F-22 Raptor fighter jet to Eastern Europe to defend NATO allies from Russia.
The F-22 is the most advanced fighter jet in the US Air Force.
"I could easily foresee the day…when the F-22 might rotate in," US secretary of the Air Force Deborah James told reporters on Monday at the Paris air show. She added that she wasn't sure when they would be deployed to Europe, where they have never been placed before.
"We face many threats, but Russia is the biggest threat right now," added James. "The hybrid warfare that Russia is conducting in Ukraine is extremely worrisome."
Russia buffering its borders
Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Gen. Yuriy Yakubov responded by saying the possible deployment of F-22s and other arms in the region is "the most aggressive step of (the) Pentagon and NATO since the Cold War last century."
"The group of forces along the perimeter of Russia's western border will be reinforced first of all, including new formations of tanks, artillery and aircraft units," he said, adding that Russia would once again place short-range missiles at Kaliningrad in the Baltic region.
According to the International Business Times, Russia has withdrawn from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe so as to be unhindered in placing aircraft, tanks and troops on its borders.
The possible deployment of the F-22 comes after it was revealed this week the Pentagon is preparing to store tanks, infantry combat vehicles and other heavy weapons for a brigade of between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers on allied bases in Baltic and Eastern European NATO states for the first time.
A senior military official detailed that the equipment for a full brigade, formally termed the European Activity Set, includes around 1,200 vehicles, among them 250 M1A2 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, as well as armed howitzers.