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U.S. Agrees To Station 'About 1,000' More Military Personnel in Poland

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U.S. President Donald Trump (right) and Polish President Andrzej Duda shake hands after holding a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on June 12.

The United States has agreed to station "about 1,000" more military personnel in Poland as the government of the East European country seeks to counter what it perceives as a growing Russian threat.

However, the joint U.S.-Poland declaration signed by President Donald Trump on June 12 stopped short of calling it a permanent presence, potentially easing Kremlin concerns about a larger U.S. military presence near its western border.

Trump earlier in the day said the increase in U.S. forces in Poland could come at the expense of Germany -- whom he criticized for underspending on NATO defense and overspending on Russian gas.

"We would be taking them out of Germany or we would be moving them from another location. It would be no additional troops to Europe," Trump said shortly before reaching the agreement.

The United States has 52,000 troops based in Germany, Trump said. The Pentagon told RFE/RL that the sourcing of the military personnel and other details of the agreement "are still being worked out."

About 4,500 U.S. troops have been stationed in Poland on a rotational basis for the past few years in response to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and Moscow's continued military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

NATO separately placed about 1,200 troops in Poland in 2017 as part of its efforts to beef up deterrence against Russia in Eastern Europe and recently agreed to invest $269 million to support U.S. forces in the country.

The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act pledges the alliance to carry out its collective defense without the "additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces." However, the pledge only applied to the "current and foreseeable security environment" at the time.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the June 12 U.S.-Polish agreement was "fully in line with NATO's international commitments."

"When the world changes, we have to adapt to make sure that we can continue to protect all allies," Stoltenberg said in the statement, possibly hinting at Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Poland last year proposed spending as much as $2 billion to host a permanent U.S. armored division, which consists of between 10,000 and 15,000 troops, to strengthen its defense against Russia.

Russia, which occupied part of Poland under the tsars, "is again showing its imperial face" by its actions in Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda said at the joint press conference with Trump.

According to the agreement, the U.S. military will expand its "enduring presence" in Poland by about 1,000 personnel "in the near-term." Poland will finance that expanded presence as well as additional military infrastructure, including a U.S. divisional headquarters.

Russia could seek to build up its military presence in the exclave of Kaliningrad in response, former U.S. Army Europe commander Lieutenant General Ben Hodges told RFE/RL. He said the Kremlin could also put more pressure on Belarus to allow its troops into that country. Both Kaliningrad and Belarus border Poland.

Though the U.S. agreement fell far short of Poland's initial request, it is something that "could be scaled" up in the future should developments in Eastern Europe demand it, Eugene Chausovsky, a Eurasia analyst at Stratfor, told RFE/RL.

"This is something that the Polish government can claim as a victory of sorts," he said of the deal.

Poland helped win over Trump's support for the increased military presence by agreeing to purchase U.S. fighter jets as well as liquefied natural gas, Chausovsky said.

Trump confirmed during the joint press conference that Poland will buy nearly three dozen F-35 fighter jets -- worth in excess of $2.5 billion -- as well as an additional $8 billion of liquefied natural gas.

Poland is seeking to ween itself off Russian energy, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of its gas imports. Duda will travel to Houston with Energy Secretary Rick Perry to meet executives of U.S. energy companies during his six-day visit to the United States.

Washington and Warsaw are seeking to halt Russia's plans to build an $11 billion gas pipeline to Germany. The pipeline would make Germany a "hostage of Russia" while also supporting the Russian economy, Trump said.

"We are protecting Germany from Russia, and Russia is getting billions and billions of dollars of money from Germany," Trump said ahead of his meeting with Duda.

He highlighted that Germany was only spending about 1 percent of gross domestic product on defense, below the 2 percent threshold set by NATO members in 2014.

Hodges said moving troops from Germany to Poland would be taken as a sign that the United States was punishing Berlin for its failure to meet defense spending limits.

However, he said, maligning Berlin was not in Washington's interest.

"We have to make sure that we treat Germany as our most important ally. Spending is such a small component of the relationship. You can't put a price tag on" all that Germany does for the United States, said Hodges, who is now with the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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