Fred Hiatt / The Washington Post & Michael R. Gordon / The New York Times – 2014-04-20 00:57:33
US Ground Troops Going to Poland, Defense Minister Says
Fred Hiatt / The Washington Post
(April 18, 2014) — Poland and the United States will announce next week the deployment of US ground forces to Poland as part of an expansion of NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe in response to events in Ukraine. That was the word from Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, who visited The Post Friday after meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon on Thursday.
Siemoniak said the decision has been made on a political level and that military planners are working out details. There will also be intensified cooperation in air defense, special forces, cyberdefense and other areas. Poland will play a leading regional role, “under US patronage,” he said.
But the defense minister also said that any immediate NATO response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, while important, matter less than a long-term shift in the defense postures of Europe and America. The United States, having announced a “pivot” to Asia, needs to “re-pivot” to Europe, he said, and European countries that have cut back on defense spending need to reverse the trends.
“The idea until recently was that there were no more threats in Europe and no need for a US presence in Europe any more,” Siemoniak said, speaking through an interpreter. “Events show that what is needed is a re-pivot, and that Europe was safe and secure because America was in Europe.”
How likely is such a reversal on defense spending? Siemoniak said there was widespread support at a recent meeting of European defense ministers. “Now they’ll go back to their presidents, prime ministers and ministers of finance, and this will stop being easy,” he admitted. “But the impetus is very strong.”
The strongest impetus, he said, is not even Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, but President Vladimir Putin’s bald lies about Russian actions there and his exposition of a new doctrine allowing Russia to intervene in any country where Russian-speaking populations are, in Russia’s judgment, under threat. This poses a potential danger to the Baltic nations, which are members of NATO, and even more to Moldova, Belarus and central Asian nations that are not, he said.
Like President Obama, Siemoniak said it’s too soon to judge the agreement reached Thursday in Geneva to defuse tensions. He said he believes that Russia’s “special operation in eastern Ukraine didn’t go as planned” and that Putin may have decided to play a longer game.
“He holds different instruments that he can use to influence events in Ukraine,” Siemoniak said. Putin will keep in reserve the option of an outright military incursion, “but the political, military and financial costs would be gigantic.” The 46-year-old minister mused that until recently NATO was wondering what mission it would have, if any, once its troops came home from Afghanistan.
“Now we have an answer to that question,” he said.
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US Plans Military Drills in Eastern Europe
Michael R. Gordon / The New York Times
WASHINGTON (April 18, 2014) — — The United States plans to carry out small ground-force exercises in Poland and Estonia in an attempt to reassure NATO’s Eastern European members worried about Russia’s military operations in and near Ukraine, Western officials said Friday.
The moves are part of a broader effort by NATO to strengthen the alliance’s air, sea and land presence in Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s new assertiveness in the region.
It is not yet clear what additional troop deployments the United States and other NATO nations might undertake in Eastern Europe after the exercises and to what extent the moves would ease anxieties there.
The land-force exercises the Obama administration is planning are extremely modest.
The exercise in Poland, which is expected to be announced next week, would involve a United States Army company and would last about two weeks, officials said. A company consists of about 150 soldiers.
The exercise in Estonia would be similar, said a Western official who declined to be identified because he was talking about internal planning.
Although the exercises would be short, the United States is considering other ways to maintain a regular ground-force presence in Eastern Europe by rotating troops and conducting training there.
“There’s an entire range of possibilities and measures that are being considered,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday in a joint news conference with Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak. “Rotational basis of training and exercises are always part of that.”
The company-size Army exercise that is planned is far from the sort of NATO deployment that Poland’s foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, suggested this month when he told reporters that he wanted the alliance to deploy two combat brigades with as many as 5,000 troops each in Poland.
This week, NATO’s top military commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, gave members of the alliance a range of options for strengthening its military posture in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, along with his own recommendations.
The measures include immediate, midterm and long-term steps. One option, General Breedlove said in an interview this month, is to move the 4,500-member American combat brigade from Fort Hood, Tex., to Europe. But Obama administration officials have not publicly supported such a step.
The first hint that the Obama administration plans to announce that American troops would be sent to Poland was provided on Friday by The Washington Post, which noted that Mr. Siemoniak had said that the move had been agreed to on a political level but provided no details.
The United States has already sent 12 F-16 fighter jets and 200 support personnel to Poland.
NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said this week that the alliance would fly more air patrols over the Baltic region and that allied ships would deploy to the Baltic Sea.
Mr. Rasmussen left open the possibility for additional deployments, including on land.
“More will follow, if needed, in the weeks and months to come,” he said.
NATO officials have said that a number of member nations in addition to the United States were offering to provide ground troops, which could be sent to Eastern European members through the end of the year.
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