Russia Warns NATO Over US-Poland Troop Move
(Source: Deutsche Welle German Radio; issued June 13, 2019)
Russia has warned NATO that US President Donald Trump's pledge to send 1,000 US troops to Poland will "destabilize" Europe. NATO forces in member Poland already include a rotating pool of 4,500 US soldiers.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday Moscow was "very closely" tracking US planning outlined at the White House during a visit by Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday.
Trump told Duda he would send 1,000 US troops from Germany into Poland, whose leaders have long wanted an installation they have code-named "Fort Trump."
A joint US-Polish declaration said drones of a US Air Force squadron, MQ-9, would also be deployed to Poland.
Poland would provide "jointly determined infrastructure" for the initial package of additional projects "at no cost to the United States," it added in a post relayed by US European Command in Stuttgart.
Last October, former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told DW "Russia is the only conceivable existential threat to Poland."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by Russian news agencies on Thursday as saying the US move reflected "aggressive" intentions and had a "destabilizing and escalating character."
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the planned US boost to Poland was a betrayal of Russia's deal with NATO reached in 1997 under which the Western alliance would not permanently site significant forces inside the territories of its newer members.
The importance of NATO's headquarters in Poland would increase, the Russian ministry said, adding that Moscow would "take this into account in its own defense planning and its practical actions."
"We see in this sign of preparation for further large-scale deployments," it said, adding: "Such actions undermine one of the few remaining documents designed to ensure military stability in Europe."
Vladimir Shamanov, ex-commander of Russia's special forces and now a Russian lawmaker, said he was concerned that US drones, if deployed in Poland, would be capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
The world was drifting toward a "dangerous moment" akin to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, warned Shamanov.
Reacting to Trump's pledge, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted late Wednesday that the troop move showed "the strong commitment of the US to European security & the strength of the transatlantic bond."
The United States currently has some 64,000 troops stationed in Europe, about 33,000 of whom are in Germany under NATO's Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) of 1951 and amended for reunified Germany in 1993.
Russia 'imperial' mask, says Duda
Duda had accused Russia of "always looking out to take our territory" as he watched an F-35 combat plane fly over the White House, a type Trump said Poland had on order.
"Russia again is showing its unkind, unfriendly imperial face," said Duda — referring to Kaliningrad, a fortified Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, and Russia's seizures of territories in Georgia and Ukraine over the past decade.
Trump's suggestion of extra troops was welcomed Thursday by Lithuania's Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis, who said "all Baltic states," would profit.
Trump, Putin differ ahead of G20
Ahead of a G20 summit in Japan due in two weeks' time and to also be attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump told Duda that he hoped for "great" relationships between Poland and Russia and between the United States and Russia.
Putin, in an interview published earlier on Thursday, said relations between Moscow and Washington were getting worse and worse.
Trump's Troop Talk Again Rattles Germany's Security Assumptions
(Source: Deutsche Welle German Radio; issued June 13, 2019)
US President Donald Trump announced the US will send upward of 1,000 troops to Poland. The plan was light on details, but Trump said he knew where the forces would come from: Germany. Berlin's reaction is mixed.
Polish officials had been lobbying the Trump administration for a permanent US troop presence in their country. What they got was a more vague outline "affirming the significant defense cooperation between our nations," as US President Donald Trump said at Wednesday's press conference at the White House with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
In Germany, the size of the envisioned US force — about 1,000 troops that, Trump said, Poland would pay for — received less attention than the apparent source of the force. Rather than deploy fresh boots, they would be moved out of Germany, where the US military maintains about 35,000 troops.
Calls for 'credible burden sharing'
The German contingent is the US military's largest noncombat deployment abroad after Japan, and it forms the basis of Germany's postwar defense policy. In making the troop offer to Poland, Trump appears to be calling that policy assumption into question once again. That has led many German defense and foreign policy experts to do the same.
"For Germany's own sake, we need to finally — in a significant and permanent way that reflects our global commitments — increase defense spending," Roderich Kiesewetter, foreign policy expert for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), told DW. "This has nothing to do with the American president, but with our responsibilities to our soldiers and Europe, and credible burden sharing."
Voices from elsewhere on the political spectrum agree. "Making the military ready for the future is a question of solidarity with our EU and NATO partners," wrote Green party lawmakers Tobias Lindner and Cem Özdemir in an editorial for the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Their party has historically fallen in with the peace and disarmament camps, but the Green colleagues wrote that their long-term goal of a European army would "remove national blinders."
The Greens' position is more visible than ever, given that the party came in second among German parties in the recent European Parliament elections, and just last week a study revealed them leading all German parties in national polling, including Merkel's ruling CDU.
However, the Green lawmakers underlined that they are against "abstract spending goals," which is how they characterize the 2014 agreement among NATO members to boost national defense spending to 2% of respective GDP by 2024.
Germany is a long way from getting there, a fact that Trump has often and openly criticized. By contrast, he holds up Poland — which has made good on the spending pledge — as a model NATO member. The suggestion of moving troops out of Germany in favor of Poland fits neatly with his frequent lecturing the former and complimenting the latter.
US defense, German foreign office downplay move
Details of such a move are far from set in stone, however, and the US has already been rotating about 8,000 troops to Poland and other eastern European countries since 2014, as part of a bulking up of NATO defenses along its border with Russia — the alliance's response to Russian military action in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
"There's no further information about this. The [US] president himself has yet to make clear if this is about a permanent troop deployment, so we will follow this closely," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said at a press conference in Berlin on Thursday. "But no, I couldn't call this something new or something that needs to be considered new."
At least officially, the US military itself sees it the same way. Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the US Department of Defense told DW: "The department has not made any decisions on the locations from which these additional units and personnel will be drawn to deploy to Poland. We're still early in the process of refining operational and infrastructure requirements."