US-Led Troops And Tanks
Rolling Into Poland
Europe’s largest such military build-up since the cold war
By Robert Strybel
WARSAW–Thousands of US and Allied troops and their combat gear began rolling into Poland in January in Europe’s largest such military build-up since the cold war. It was probably the biggest entry onto Polish soil by friendly forces since the early 1800s, when Napoleon’s march-through liberated parts of partitioned Poland in the run-up to his planned attack on Russia.
This time too Russia was a key element of the operation which has been mounted as a deterrent to Moscow’s growing militarism and neo-imperial designs. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put it. “Russia has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad (bordering Poland and Lithuania–RS) and suspended a weapons-grade plutonium agreement with the United States.” He added that Moscow has continued to destabilize eastern Ukraine with military and financial support for pro-Russian separatists.
Four shiploads of military hardware or nearly 2,000 wheeled and tread-mounted combat vehicles of various types are being unloaded at the German port of Bremerhafen and will be sent on to Poland by train and in convoys. They included Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, self-propelled Howitzers and Humvee light armored cars.
Millions of Poles watched the start of the operation on TV, and many of those living in areas through which the convoys passed turned out for a close-up view of the GIs and their gear. Ever since Russia’s illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea and instigation of unrest in eastern Ukraine, beefing up NATO’s eastern flank has been Poland’s top strategic priority. Although Polish public opinion is deeply divided between its support for the conservative government and the radical liberal-left opposition, on this one issue there is nearly total agreement.
The first group of 250 US soldiers arrived by plane in the SW city of Wrocław and moved to the training bases in Żagań and Bolesławiec. The troops are part of a 3,500-strong Armored Brigade Combat Team which President Barack Obama pledged to send to Poland at last July’s NATO summit in Warsaw. An addition, Allied battalions totaling 4,000 troops will be on guard as a deterrent force in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The entire operation code-named Atlantic Resolve is headquartered in Poland.
Obama came to office claiming he saw a “true democrat” in Putin’s eyes and pledging to “reset” relations with Russia which included scrapping the Poland-based Bush-era anti-missile shield, hotly opposed by Moscow. He soon evolved into a hawk and called for stiff anti-Russian sanctions when Putin launched his aggression agaisnt Ukraine. Angered that Russian hackers had contributed to Hillary Clinton’s defeat last November, before leaving office Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats on suspicion of espionage.
Warsaw is now following with concern the pronouncements of his successor Donald Trump who has repeatedly indicated he wants to cooperate with Putin in solving different international issues. If the Russian leader agrees but only on condition that NATO troops and hardware are rolled away from the Russian border, how will Trump respond? The Polish government has refrained from official statements on the subject, but foreign-policy expert Piotr Buras feels any Trump-Putin deal could only undermine Polish-US relations.