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Poland seeks permanent U.S. troop presence

U.S. troops are currently in Poland on a rotational, temporary, though open-ended mission.

WARSAW: The Kremlin expressed concern Monday over media reports that Poland has requested a permanent U.S. military presence on its soil, saying NATO’s expansion toward Russia’s borders undermined stability in Europe.

Warsaw could offer up to $2 billion in funding for such a military presence, according to a Polish Defense Ministry proposal reported by Polish media.

A government source in Poland confirmed to Reuters such a proposal had been made. The Polish Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked about the move, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was every country’s sovereign right to take such decisions, but that it would harm the overall atmosphere on the continent.

“When we see the gradual expansion of NATO military structures towards our borders ... this of course in no way creates security and stability on the continent,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

“On the contrary, these expansionist actions of course lead to counteraction from the Russian side in order to balance the parity which is violated every time in this way,” Peskov said.

Poland joined NATO in 1999 along with Hungary and the Czech Republic, and since then many other former communist states – including the three Baltic republics bordering Russia – have joined in successive waves, despite Moscow’s strong opposition. Poland is concerned for its own and the region’s security following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and other steps seen as hostile.

Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said he recently held talks in Washington about having a permanent presence of U.S. troops in Poland, where they are currently on a rotational, temporary, though open-ended mission.

“The result of our efforts is that the U.S. Senate has contacted the Pentagon about an assessment of ... [the] permanent presence of U.S. troops in Poland,” Blaszczak said on state Radio 1. “Such presence is of great importance because it deters the adversary.”

This came as Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told lawmakers at the spring session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Warsaw that NATO will focus on five key areas from deterrence to modernization and EU relations, with measures to “manage” ties with an increasingly assertive Russia high on the agenda.

Building on the alliance’s 2016 decision to deploy battle groups on its eastern flank facing Russia, Stoltenberg said he expected leaders at the July 11-12 Brussels summit to “make decisions on reinforcement readiness and military mobility” of forces. “Our deterrence and defense is not only dependent on the forces we have deployed, but it also very much depends on our ability to move forces quickly if needed,” he said.

NATO member states have deployed around 4,000 troops to the Baltic states and Poland to counter the threat to the alliance’s eastern flank, particularly since the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

With relations between Russia and the West at a post-Cold War low, the NATO chief also said he expected the alliance to reiterate its “dual-track” approach toward Moscow “about deterrence and defense combined with political dialogue.”

“Even if we don’t believe in a better relationship with Russia in the near future, we need to manage our relationship with Russia,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 29, 2018, on page 10.

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