Heavy military hardware from the US will be deployed to Poland next year to assuage concern over the Russian threat
By Matthew Day, Warsaw and Roland Oliphant, Moscow
Tensions between the West and Russia over eastern Europe escalated on Friday as details emerged of a deal between Washington and Warsaw to permanently deploy US heavy military hardware to Poland by next year.
The American deployment, aimed at assuaging concern over the threat posed by Russia to Polish and regional security, came as EU diplomats attempted to lure Moscow ally Belarus in from the cold by agreeing to drop sanctions against its president, Alexander Lukashenko.
Poland’s defence ministry said the American equipment, which could include tanks, armoured personnel carriers and ammunition, will be stored under an agreement signed earlier this week.
“The agreement means US equipment will be based in our country and will thus strengthen the presence of our ally, and improve both Polish and regional security,” said Jacek Sonta, spokesman for Polish defence ministry.
The forward positioning of heavy equipment, defence experts said, should enhance the American army’s ability to react with speed to any threat on Nato’s eastern flank as it will be able to move unburdened by heavy hardware.
Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s defence minister, said now that agreement had been reached they “will discuss the details” of exactly what equipment will go where, but Poland hopes to have the hardware in place by the middle of next year, before a Nato summit due to be held in Warsaw in July.
The presence of US military hardware on Polish soil should help bolster Poland’s defences and help allay deep-rooted fears in Poland that if it came to a military clash in eastern Europe, it would be left to fend for itself.
Poland has viewed with disquiet Russia’s occupation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine, and has called for a greater Nato presence in Central Europe to check what it regards as its neighbour’s expansionist policies.
But the presence of the US hardware is likely to anger Russia, which has opposed any deployment of troops or equipment to Nato’s eastern members.
On Thursday, Moscow denounced the decision to send 125 British troops to the Baltic states, saying “it placed stability in the region under threat”.
The move came as Europe’s top diplomat called on European countries to treat Russia “decently” if they wanted to mend relations with Moscow.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, also openly criticised American policy towards Russia during a visit to Passau in southern Germany.
“We must make efforts towards a practical relationship with Russia. It is not sexy but that must be the case, we can’t go on like this,” he said.
“Russia must be treated decently,” he added. ”We can’t let our relationship with Russia be dictated by Washington.”
Elsewhere in eastern Europe, European diplomats moved to thaw relations with Mr Lukashenko, the authoritarian president of Belarus and nominally a close ally of Mr Putin.
European diplomats said they are considering partially lifting sanctions against Belarus, including several on Mr Lukashenko personally, following presidential elections on Sunday.
Sanctions would be lifted for a period of four months following the election this Sunday, barring any crackdown by the government.
The move follows Mr Lukashenko’s release of six political prisoners in August, a move welcomed by the European Union.
“The consensus is finally there and now it is just a formal decision to be taken toward the end of October, assuming Mr Lukashenko does not organise a clampdown on political dissent after the elections,” a senior EU diplomat told Reuters.
The Belarusian president, who has been described as “the last dictator in Europe,” has carved a niche for himself in confrontation between Russia and the west by hosting peace talks designed to end the crisis in Ukraine.
On Thursday Mr Lukashenko unexpectedly criticised Russian plans to build a military air base in Belarus, in an apparent concession to protestors against the proposals.
Tags: Belarus, Belgorod, Boguchar, Central Europe, Crimea, Donetsk, European Commission, Germany, Jean-Claude Juncker, Lavrov, Luhansk, NATO, Nato’s eastern members, poland, pro-Moscow separatists, Putin, Russia, Russia’s occupation of Crimea, Russian military, Russian plans to build a military air base in Belarus, Russian Troops, Syria, Ukraine, US military, Voronezh
This entry was posted on October 11, 2015 at 12:06 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.