Poland’s Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak told The Washington Post that US ground troops will move to Poland in an effort to reinforce NATO’s defenses in Eastern Europe as Russia remains a security risk. It is the first time ground troops have been mentioned as a way to help the US’s NATO allies.
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby released this statement to the media, including Breitbart News:
As Secretary Hagel made clear, we continue to look for ways to reassure NATO allies of our strong commitment to collective defense under Article Five. To that end, we are considering a range of additional measures we could take to bolster air, maritime and ground readiness in Europe. Some of those activities will be pursued bilaterally with individual NATO nations. Some will be pursued through the Alliance itself. All of them will be rotational in nature. We have nothing specific to announce at this time.
Siemoniak told The Post that Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine is not the main point of the conversation within NATO. In fact, it is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lies about troops in the peninsula and a law that allows “Russia to intervene in any country where Russian-speaking populations are, in Russia’s judgement, under threat.”
Russia claimed they had a right to protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Crimea and used that excuse to annex the peninsula from Ukraine. Concerns were raised even more when the Russian ambassador to Latvia told a radio station Moscow was ready to provide Russian citizenship to Russians in Latvia. A week later, a Russian diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council that Moscow was concerned about the treatment of Russian speakers in Estonia. Both countries belong to the European Union and NATO.
But the main worry is eastern Ukraine, which is home to many ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, where pro-Russian forces are taking over government buildings and demanding referendums in early May. Putin said he does not want to use forces to protect the Russians in the east, but kept the door open. Ukraine is not a member of the EU or NATO, but Poland is their neighbor.
“Essentially what we are looking at is a package of land, air and maritime measures that would build assurance for our easternmost allies,” Breedlove told the AP. “I’m tasked to deliver this by next week. I fully intend to deliver it early.”
Asked again if American soldiers might be sent to NATO’s front-line states closest to Russia, the four-star U.S. general said, “I would not write off contributions from any nation.”
“Today, we agreed on a package of further military measures to reinforce our collective defence and demonstrate the strength of Allied solidarity,” the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said after a meeting of alliance members. “We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water, and more readiness on the land. For example, air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region. Allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere, as required.”
“Military staff from Allied nations will deploy to enhance our preparedness, training and exercises. Our defence plans will be reviewed and reinforced. We will start to implement these measures straight away. More will follow, if needed, in the weeks and months to come.”
Vice President Joe Biden visited Poland and the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) in mid-March and promised the NATO allies the US will defend them. The US sent 300 air troops and 12 F-16 fighters to Poland and six more F15 fighter jets to Lithuania.