America is about to make history by storing a slew of weapons, fighting vehicles, and battle tanks in Eastern European and Baltic countries—a clear message to Russia to back off, the New York Times reports. If it happens, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and maybe Hungary will store enough military stuff for up to 5,000 American troops, according to allied and US officials. Not since the Cold War have Eastern European countries formerly under Soviet control, and now in NATO, housed US military equipment. "This is a very meaningful shift in policy," says James Stavridis, once NATO's supreme allied commander. "It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full-time on the ground, of course."
Even if 5,000 US troops grabbed all that equipment, they couldn't stand up to a real Russian invasion. But the move will make a statement as pro-Russia rebels continue to fight Ukranian government forces, the Guardian reports. "It’s like taking NATO back to the future," says a former White House official. Such a move has been dismissed before because it went against the cooperative spirit of a 1997 agreement between Russia and NATO. Now though, things are different: "This is essentially about politics," a professor says. "This is about telling Russia that you’re getting closer to a real red line." In a timely remark last week, Vladimir Putin said that "only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO." (Read more Eastern Europe stories.)