In recent days, tensions have risen between the U.S. and Russia over the U.S. decision to increase the budgets and activities of NATO forces in Eastern Europe. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has stated that Russia is ready to respond to NATO's growing potential in Europe. On March 25, 2016, he denounced the upgrade of NATO troops in Europe, in particular near Russia's borders, thus compelling Russia to react. "NATO continues to build up its military potential in Europe, including in close vicinity to the Russian borders. No doubt, this situation cannot but concern us. We are forced to respond to it," the minister said.
Shoigu added that in 2016, Russia's Western Military District will be upgraded with over 1,100 pieces of military hardware, including Sukhoi Su-35 advanced fighter jets, Koalitsiya-SV and Msta-SM self-propelled howitzers, and S-400 antiaircraft missile systems. The District has set up a new 1st Tank Army headquartered in the Moscow area. During 2016, Russia will raise its alert levels and conduct 800 operative and combat training drills to boost the military's response readiness.
Russian missile. (Source: AFP 2016/ ALEXANDER NEMENOV)
At the same time, according to U.S. Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command, the U.S. too is planning to step up its troop presence in Europe. These measures are part of the implementation of the Readiness Action Plan approved by NATO in 2014; the plan sets out measures for an efficient response to threats deriving from the Russia-Ukraine crisis and from the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. In this framework, U.S. Army Europe will increase the total U.S. Army presence in Europe up to three fully manned armored brigades, with the first arriving in February 2017.
Russia's Envoy To NATO: Russia Will Respond "Totally Asymmetrically"
In a March 31, 2016 interview with Russia 24 TV, Russian envoy to NATO Aleksandr Grushko promised a "totally asymmetrical" response if NATO carries out its plan to deploy new armored units to Eastern Europe. Grushko said: "We are not passive observers, we consistently take all the military measures we consider necessary in order to counterbalance this reinforced presence that is not justified by anything. Certainly, we'll respond totally asymmetrically." He added that Russia's actions would correspond to its "understanding of the extent of the military threat; not only will this not be extremely expensive, but it will also be highly effective.ÔÇØ
Some hints of the form such an asymmetrical response might take came from other top Russian officials. Russian Foreign Ministry Department of European Cooperation director Andrei Kelin explained that "symmetrical steps are unlikely" taking into consideration "the huge amount of money that our American partners are presently investing" and what he called U.S. plans to spend "four times as much" in 2017. He added: "I'm sure that a symmetrical response is completely unnecessary. However, compensating measures to maintain a normal military-strategic balance are being taken and will be taken."
Russia League of Military Diplomats deputy director Sergei Kalmykov said that a Russian response consisting of "building up arms on the Russian border" would only increase Russia's "vulnerability vis-├á-vis NATO." Kalmykov said that Russia needed to find ways to increase its strategic forces' access to the U.S. - meaning developing its submarine fleet. He added, "The same goes for strategic aviation. And, of course, options are being considered for using 'platforms' abroad. For the moment, the latter is not actively being developed."
Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of International Security Problems researcher Alexei Fenenko suggested that the main "compensating response "might be tactical nuclear forces: "Today we have superiority in tactical nuclear weapons in the European theater of operations. It seems to me that placing them in European Russia, Belarus, and the Baltic Fleet will, apparently, sufficiently compensate for the American [move to strengthen NATO]."
International Centre of Geopolitical Analysis president Colonel General Leonid Ivashov told the Russian pro-Kremlin news outlet Pravda.ru that Russia is ready to respond by political and diplomatic as well as military means. He added that NATO is not a "security tool for the European nations" but a tool of "aggression."
"The Current Generation Of Western Politicians Likes The Taste Of Blood"
A March 21, 2016 column by Said Gafurov in Pravda.ru, titled "Russia Must Be Armed To The Teeth To Stop NATO's Aggression," accused Western leaders of liking the "taste of blood" and of willfully pursuing a policy of dangerous confrontation with the Russian Federation. The column also noted that Russia is taking the necessary countermeasures against the U.S. move to strengthen NATO, and gave a long list of Russian military equipment that was added in 2015. Following are excerpts from the column:
"Russia was deliberately destroying its defense industry during the 1990s. The Russian administration at that time believed that Russia had no enemy at all. The demilitarization of the economy cost Russia a lot. Luckily, the country woke up in time. These days, the revival of the Russian defense industry is in full swing.
"War is a terrible thing - probably the most terrible thing that could ever happen in the history of mankind. Everything possible must be done to avoid war. If war happens, everything possible must be done to end the armed part of a conflict - such as Russia did in Syria by sponsoring a peace conference between the Syrian government and opposition.
"NATO's aggressive stance is the most unpleasant thing in this situation. The current generation of Western politicians likes the taste of blood. They are like predators, like sharks in the sea, hastening to catch and kill their prey. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, we saw NATO aggression in a number of countries...
"NATO members do not understand the power of words - they understand only the power of force. The best proof of this was the insurgency in Ukraine, when a bunch of rebels - no more than 30,000 people - killed Ukrainian democracy, overthrew the legally elected president of a country with a population of 45 million, and flung the country into a bloody mess. Russia must be fully armed in order to be able to stop NATO's aggression. Russia needs to spend money on defense. Otherwise we will have to pay with blood.
"In 2015, Russian ground troops were reinforced with more than 1,000 armored vehicles, 300 units of anti-aircraft missile complexes and systems, over 3,400 automotive vehicles, about 22,000 units of communication systems, and two Iskander operational-tactical missile complex systems. Russian air and space troops received more than 230 aircraft, 158 helicopters, 191 radar stations, four S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, more than 35,000 aircraft weapons, and nine units of spacecraft launch vehicles. In addition, seven carrier rockets were launched, and eight military satellites were put into orbit. The Russian Navy was upgraded with four warships, four submarines, 52 vessels, two Bastion coastal missile complexes, 27 naval aircraft, and 45 units of missile and artillery weapons.
"Russian airborne troops were reinforced with 114 units of armored vehicles, two complexes of the Verbaanti-aircraft missile system, and 11,000 landing complexes. Additionally, the Russian Strategic Missile Forces received 21 strategic ballistic missiles, and 386 units and components of mobile and stationary missile complexes."
The U.S. Is Trying To "Intimidate Russia - But On The Other Hand Talk[ing] About The (Imaginary) Russian Threat"
"Of course, we hope that all these weapons will never be used in combat action. Yet all these weapons act like a cold shower to cool the ardor of the hawks in the Pentagon. They behave very aggressively. On the one hand, they try to intimidate Russia - but on the other hand, they talk about the (imaginary) Russian threat. This is partly due to the fact that they are in the midst of the budget year, and the U.S. military-industrial complex wants to get as much [funding] as possible, as the outgoing president prepares to leave the White House.
"In 2015, Russia manufactured 97% of the new weapons it needed. This seems like a lot - but the 3% that is missing equals 15 aircraft, eight ships and vessels, 17 units of automatic control systems, three Rokot carrier rockets, one upper stage, 253 rockets for various purposes, and 240 armored vehicles. President Putin was concerned about the delayed and failed contracts. The reasons for this include poor planning, insufficient manpower, no manufacturing of spare parts and materials, and loss of production technologies. Indeed, Russia is now producing less than the USSR did.
"Russia is importing what it used to manufacture at home, and has launched the manufacture of many components...
"For now, China is helping Russia solve many of its problems... But the defense industry is the area in which Russia must rely solely on itself."
 Tass.ru, March 25, 2016.
 Tass.ru, March 25, 2016.
 Rt.com, March 31, 2016.
 Sputnik.com, February 5, 2016.
 Sputnik.com, February 5, 2016.
 Sputnik.com, February 5, 2016.
 Pravdareport.com, April 1, 2016.
 Pravdareport.ru, March 21, 2016. The original English has been edited for clarity.