New US-led force to deter Russia in Poland from April

Polish and Danish troops training together. Germany, May 2016. [7th Army Training Command/Flickr]

A US-led battalion of more than 1,100 soldiers will be deployed in Poland from the start of April, a US commander said today, as the alliance sets up a new force in response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

More than 900 US soldiers, around 150 British personnel and some 120 Romanian troops will make up the battlegroup in northeastern Poland, one of four multinational formations across the Baltic region that Russia has condemned as an aggressive strategy on its frontiers.

NATO to send troops to deter Russia, some allies want more

Britain, Germany and the United States advanced plans on Tuesday (14 June) to spearhead a new NATO force on Russia’s border from next year, but some Eastern European allies said the alliance’s effort must go further to deter Moscow.

“This is a mission, not a cycle of training events,” US Army Lt. Colonel Steven Gventer, who heads the battlegroup, told a news conference. “The purpose is to deter aggression in the Baltics and in Poland… We are fully ready to be lethal.”

Britain, Canada and Germany are leading the other three battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are due to be operational by June. They will have support from a series of NATO nations including France.

German troops deploy in Lithuania under NATO banner

Germany and NATO yesterday (7 February) underscored their commitment to beefing up the defence of Eastern Europe’s border with Russia as the first of four new battalions under the North Atlantic alliance’s banner arrived in Lithuania.

In total, some 4,000 NATO troops – equipped with tanks, armoured vehicles, air support and hi-tech mission information rooms – will monitor and defend against any potential Russian incursions.

Moscow, which denies having any expansionist or aggressive agenda, accuses NATO of trying to destabilise Central Europe and has responded by forming four new military divisions to strengthen its western and central regions and stepping up exercises.

Seeking to avoid stationing troops permanently on Russia’s borders, the new NATO force across the Baltics and Poland can rely on a network of eight small NATO outposts in the region, regular training exercises and, in the case of attack, a much larger force of 40,000 alliance troops.

NATO reassures Russia over troop deployments

NATO will seek to reassure Russia today (19 December) that its troop deployments in the Baltics and Poland next year are purely defensive, in a rare meeting of the alliance’s and Kremlin’s envoys that is unlikely to resolve long-standing grievances.

“We are not the entirety of NATO’s response,” said US Army Major Paul Rothlisberger, part of the US-led battalion to be based in Orzysz, 220 kilometres northeast of Warsaw.

The alliance is seeking to show the ex-Soviet countries in NATO that they are protected from the kind of annexation Russia orchestrated in February in 2014 in Ukraine’s Crimea.

It also wants to avoid a return to the Cold War, when the US had some 300,000 personnel stationed in Europe, and stick to a 1997 agreement with Moscow not to permanently station forces on the Russian border.

The plan is being implemented as Western powers try for a peace settlement in eastern Ukraine, where NATO says Russia supports separatist rebels with weapons and troops.

Crimea annexation anniversary triggers reactions in US, EU

The US yesterday (16 March) condemned once again Russia’s Crimea annexation, vowing to maintain sanctions until Moscow returns the Black Sea peninsula to Ukraine. The EU prolonged personal sanctions and the European Parliament passed a resolution supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Russia plans to stage large-scale war games near its western borders this year, but has not said how many troops will take part.