Thursday 12 December 2019

Poland wants 10,000 NATO troops as warning to Russia

Russian servicemen stand in front of a military truck on a freight carriage at the settlement of Gvardeiskoye near the Crimean city of Simferopol
Russian servicemen stand in front of a military truck on a freight carriage at the settlement of Gvardeiskoye near the Crimean city of Simferopol
Russian tank crew members wait for their T-72B tank to be ready to move off a train shortly after Russian tanks arrived at a train station in the Crimean settlement of Gvardeiskoye near the Crimean city of Simferopol
A Russian serviceman guides a newly arrived T-72B tank in the settlement of Gvardeiskoye near the Crimean city of Simferopol

Bruno Waterfield in Brussels and Tony Paterson in Berlin

Poland asked NATO yesterday to station 10,000 troops on its territory as a visible demonstration of the alliance's resolve to defend all its members after Russia's seizure of Crimea.

NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels to consider requests for soldiers to be deployed in Poland and the Baltic states, all of which share borders with Russia. NATO generals and admirals have been ordered to devise ways to improve protection of members that feel threatened by Russia, and to suspend "all practical civilian and military cooperation" with Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin has massed about 40,000 troops near Ukraine's eastern frontier, giving himself the option of seizing more of its territory.

On Monday he assured Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, that some of these forces would be withdrawn. But the NATO ministers disclosed that Russia had yet to keep this promise.


"We've had some statements from Russia about pulling back forces from the eastern border, but we haven't seen the evidence yet," said William Hague, the British foreign secretary.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, said he could not "confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops" and warned of the dangers posed by a "massive military build-up". Against this background, Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, asked for "two heavy brigades" of armoured infantry, with about 5,000 troops each, to be stationed in his country. Poland has a 144-mile border with Russia's Kaliningrad enclave.

"It is very important that all members should enjoy the same level of security," said Mr Sikorski. "Poland has been a member of NATO for 15 years now – and so far, the only permanent military institution that we have is a conference centre, training facility. We would welcome a prominent, major presence."

Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, has expressed frustration over NATO's reluctance to deploy troops in his country in breach, say diplomats, of promises made as long ago as 1997.

Britain has offered to send RAF Typhoon fighters to join NATO exercises over Poland and air defence patrols above the Baltic states. But Poland wants NATO forces to be permanently stationed on its territory. Mr Hague gave a cautious response, saying: "We certainly need to give additional reassurance and confidence to our eastern allies. The UK has said we will contribute aircraft to Baltic air policing and there may be other measures we decide upon."

NATO is expected to make further announcements on the deployment of military assets in the coming weeks. This might include sending troops and warships to eastern Europe and the Baltic. America is expected to send another 600 personnel to Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase on the Black Sea coast of Romania. But Germany and other NATO members are wary of causing more tension with Russia by sending forces to its frontiers.

"No, we don't need any NATO troops on the border with Russia," said Frans Timmermans, the Dutch foreign minister in response to the Polish proposal. A NATO "restricted" document, seen by the German magazine 'Der Spiegel', singles out Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova as three countries – all former Soviet republics – that might benefit from increased Western military support. The document said they would be encouraged to participate in NATO's "Smart Defence" programme, which involves buying specific weapons and taking part in joint exercises.

Diplomats are concerned that a permanent NATO military presence in member states bordering Russia could lead Mr Putin to bolster his own forces near sensitive frontiers. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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