Polish PM Beata Szydło welcomes US troops

Monday, January 16, 2017

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło on Saturday headed a ceremony in the Western town of Żagań welcoming US troops. The troops are in the region in response to Russian action in Ukraine and began arriving earlier this week.

Szydło from file.
Image: Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland.

"Each Polish family must feel safe", Szydło said. "It is the duty of the Polish state, the government to provide security. Today we have made a big step in this direction". Outgoing US President Barack Obama authorised the move in response to Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014, in which Crimea was annexed. It was agreed at a NATO summit in Warsaw last year.

Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz was also at the ceremony. "We have waited for you for a very long time," he told the troops. "We waited for decades, sometimes feeling we had been left alone, sometimes almost losing hope, sometimes feeling that we were the only one who protected civilization from aggression that came from the east."

Hundreds of members of the public attended the ceremony, near the German border; the soldiers crossed in from Germany. Part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the deployment is set to include Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and Paladin artillery. It is the largest deployment of US troops to Europe since the Cold War ended.

The US troops are set to rotate around the region every nine months. Other planned host nations are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. The rotation is due to a treaty with Russia preventing permanent deployment to any particular territory.

Żagań, from file.
Image: Vorwerk.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Mechkov said the incoming troops and vehicles were a "factor destabilising European security". The presence of US assets "threatens our interests and our security," according to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin's administration described the deployment as "a threat".

Polish relations with Russia are strained. Since the annexation of Crimea, Russia has recently been increasing its military presence in Kalingrad. The enclave, Russian territory lying between Poland and Lithuania, now has nuclear-capable Iskander missiles and anti-ship Bastion equipment.

US–Russian relations are also strained. Last month the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats accused of espionage, and sanctioned Russian intelligence agencies. This was in response to a CIA report issued two weeks earlier that concluded the Russian government hacked servers belonging to the U.S. Republican and Democratic parties. The CIA report said this was to turn the 2016 presidential election toward president-elect Donald Trump.

Trump has indicated he seeks closer ties with Russia. He takes power this month. "This is America's most capable fighting force: A combat-ready, highly trained US armoured brigade, with our most advanced equipment and weaponry," according to Paul James, US ambassador to Poland. James, who attended the ceremony, said the troops represent "America's iron-clad commitment to honor our NATO treaty obligation to defend our NATO allies."

In a Wall Street Journal interview published on Friday Trump indicated he wishes to maintain sanctions against Russia "at least for a period of time," but ultimately remove them as relations improve. "If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?" he asked. Outgoing CIA director John Brennan said yesterday Trump "doesn't understand Russia" and expressed concerns the US President-Elect's spontaneity would damage US national security.

A total of around 4,000 troops are pledged to the region.