Thursday

20th Feb 2020

US to close 15 military bases in EU despite Russia crisis

  • The closures will see the overall figure of US troops stay more or less the same (Photo: Air Combat Command)

The US plans to close 15 Cold War-era military bases in Europe despite the Russia crisis, but net troop numbers will remain more or less the same.

The biggest shutdown is a US air base in Mildenhall, UK, which will see 2,000 military and civilian personnel go home.

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But the move will be offset by an extra 1,200 personnel at the Lakenheath air base, which will host two new squadrons of F-35 fighter jets from 2020.

The UK will see US troops move from the Alconbury and Molesworth bases to a site in Croughton.

Germany is to lose seven bases - Mainz Kastel, Barton Barracks, Weilimdorf, Baumholder, Wiesbaden, Pirmasens, and Illesheim/Sembach. But other changes will see a net increase in 500 US troops.

The US will also: move troops from Brussels to Sterrebeek in Belgium; sell the Emma Mine site in the Netherlands; partly close the Pisa Ammo and Camp Darby facilities in Italy; and “streamline operations” at Lajes in Portugal.

The Pentagon said net numbers will go up by 200 in Italy, but go down by 500 in Portugal. The overall figure in the EU - 64,000 personnel - will stay more or less the same.

The restructuring is to cost $1.4 billion but save $500 million a year.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is due to ask Congress for a budget of $51 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, also known as “war funding”, for the year starting 1 October.

The figure is down from $64 billion for the current period.

But total defence spending is to stay at over $600 billion - more than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, Germany, Japan, and India put together.

Congressmen have also approved a $985 million “European Reassurance Initiative” to build up militaries in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, among other states.

US defence chief Chuck Hagel said on Thursday (8 January) the closure of the Cold War-era facilities doesn’t mean the US is letting down its EU allies.

“This transformation of our infrastructure will help maximse our military capabilities in Europe and help strengthen our important European partnerships, so that we can best support our Nato allies and partners in the region”, he noted.

His deputy, Derek Chollet, told press: “These decisions will produce savings that will enable us to maintain a robust force presence in Europe”.

The US defence department added, following Hagel’s meeting with Slovak defence minister Martin Glvac in Washington the same day, that “the US and Slovakia continue to present a united front with Nato to deal with Russia's aggressive behaviour”.

The US measures come amid new hopes of an end to the Russian crisis caused, for the main part, by Russia’s inability to pay for military adventures due to the rouble crash.

International ratings agencies are expected to further downgrade Russian bonds in the coming days.

But according to financial newswire Bloomberg, the cost of insuring Russian debt against non-repayment is already the fifth highest in the world, after countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, and Portugal.

Good cop, bad cop

For his part, French president Francois Hollande has set great hopes on a meeting of French, German, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders in Kazakhstan later this month.

He said, earlier this week, that EU sanctions on Russia must “stop” if the summit agrees a Russian pull-back from east Ukraine.

But German chancellor Angela Merkel took a tougher line following her meeting with Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Berlin also on Thursday.

She told press the meeting is Astana is “possible” but not certain.

She also said Russia must fully comply with the Minsk protocol - a set of 15 ceasefire measures agreed in Belarus last year - if there is to be any EU sanctions relief.

“We have had road maps before and they weren’t adhered to”, she noted.

“You can’t say, we will lift 10 percent of sanctions for the line of control, or 20 percent if some other point is met … I think we need to see the entire Minsk agreement implemented before we can say that sanctions will be lifted”.

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