U.S.-led troops and Tanks Roll into Poland
Europe’s largest such military build-up since the cold war
Will Trump’s improved ties with Moscow weaken the deterrent?
by Robert Strybel and press reports
WARSAW — Thousands of U.S. and Allied troops and their combat gear rolled into Poland in January in Europe’s largest military build-up since the Cold War. It was probably the biggest entry onto Polish soil by friendly forces since the early 1800s, when Napoleon’s march-through liberated parts of partitioned Poland in the run-up to his planned attack on Russia.
This time, too, Russia was a key element of the Operation Atlantic Resolve, a deterrent to Moscow’s growing militarism and neo-imperial designs.
The entire operation is headquartered in Poland.
According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Russia has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad (bordering Poland and Lithuania) and suspended a weapons-grade plutonium agreement with the United States. He added that Moscow has continued to destabilize eastern Ukraine with military and financial support for pro-Russian separatists.
Four shiploads of military hardware —nearly 2,000 wheeled and tread-mounted combat vehicles of various types — were unloaded at the German port of Bremerhafen. They were sent to Poland by train and in convoys. They included Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, self-propelled Howitzers, and Humvee light armored cars.
Millions of Poles watched the start of the operation on TV, and many of those living in areas near the convoys turned out for a close-up view of the GIs and their gear. Ever since Russia’s illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea, and its instigation of unrest in eastern Ukraine, beefing up NATO’s eastern flank has been Poland’s top strategic priority. Although Polish public opinion is deeply divided between its support for the conservative government and the radical liberal-left opposition, on this one issue there is nearly total agreement.
The first group of 250 U.S. soldiers arrived by plane in the southwest city of Wrocław, and moved to training bases in Żagań and Bolesławiec. The troops are part of a 3,500-strong Armored Brigade Combat Team, which President Barack Obama pledged to send to Poland at last July’s NATO summit in Warsaw. In addition, Allied battalions totaling 4,000 troops will be on guard as a deterrent force in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
With just concern, Warsaw is now following the pronouncements of Donald Trump, who has repeatedly indicated he wants to cooperate with Putin in solving different international issues.
The Polish government has refrained from official statements on the subject, but foreign-policy expert Piotr Buras feels any Trump-Putin deal could only undermine Polish-U.S. relations.
In Germany, which is home to the U.S. Army in Europe headquarters, a new populist party with growing support from German voters, wants the American troops gone from Poland. The co-chair of the Alternative for Germany party, Frauke Petry, argued that antagonizing Vladimir Putin hasn’t cut down on violence in Ukraine or Syria.
“NATO sort of surrounding Russia is not going to help,” she told NPR. “It’s going to deepen the conflict. But I’m hopeful that Trump and Putin are going to end the situation.”
Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, on the other hand, has said he hopes any effort to reconcile with Russia “does not happen at our expense.”
Deterrent or Threat?
“For U.S. Army Europe, the arrival of the heavy brigade is a culmination of a steady build up that commenced in the wake of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, a move that sparked new security fears in Europe. For U.S. European Command, increased troop rotations are aimed at reassuring nervous allies and sending a signal of deterrence to Russia. Moscow has blasted the plans as an unnecessary provocation.”
— John Vandiver in Stars and Stripes.
“... the deployment of the U.S. forces in Europe by the Obama administration over the past days, moreover such a hasty one ... is a destabilizing factor for the entire European security.”
— Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Mechkov.
“Let me be very clear, this is one part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression, ensure territorial integrity of our allies and maintain a Europe that is whole, free, prosperous, and at peace.”
— Lt. Gen. Tim Ray, deputy commander of U.S. European Command.
“We see this as a threat. These actions pose a threat to our interests and security, especially, when a third country [the United States] is beefing up its military presence along our borders with Europe. And this is not even a European country.”
— Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov.
— Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Europe.
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