Polish President Andrzej Duda has welcomed the arrival of NATO troops to the north east of the country as part of measures to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank in the face of increased Russian assertiveness. The multi-national force comprised of 900 US troops alongside 150 British and 120 Romanians will be stationed at Orzysz, near the border with the Russian Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. In January 3,500 US troops arrived in south west Poland near Germany in a separate deployment, and later this year more NATO troops will be posted to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. NATO’s military buildup in the region is intended to bolster the organisation’s defence capabilities in the Baltic following the Russian annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists fighting in the eastern region of Ukraine.
Last year, Russia moved nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles into Kaliningrad and deployed the S-400 anti-aircraft missile defence shield, in what the Kremlin said was a response to NATO expansion.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that generations of Poles have waited for this moment since the end of WWII, generations that dreamed of being part of the just, united, democratic, and truly free West,” Duda said at the welcoming ceremony for the troops. The deployment comes days after US President Donald Trump, speaking at a press conference with NATO General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, announced a reversal of his previously held view that NATO is obsolete. It also comes amid deteriorating diplomatic relations between the US and Russia over the Kremlin’s support for Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, with both sides stating that relations are at the worst they have been since the end of the Cold War.
At the welcoming ceremony President Duda noted the symbolism of the troops’ arrival on 13 April, which marks Katyń Memorial Day in Poland when the execution of 22,000 Poles by the Russian Secret Service during World War II is commemorated. The memorial takes its name from the Katyń Forest, now in western Russia, where 4,400 Polish officers were shot dead by the NKVD and buried in a mass grave.
The presence of general [Scaparrotti] and US forces, the world’s largest army… in our country today is a vocal testimony that the world is changing and this has created a strong chance that the dramas of our past, such as those of 1939 and 1940, will never be repeated,” said Duda.