WARSAW — The United States will send about 1,000 troops to Poland as part of an effort by NATO to beef up its eastern flank, President Obama announced at a North Atlantic summit Friday.
Obama said the U.S. would rotate battalions into Poland "to serve shoulder to shoulder with Polish soldiers," and that an armored brigade would move its headquarters to Poland, which Obama called one of the United States' "most committed and important allies."
The move is an effort to bolster NATO's strength in eastern Europe in order to deter further Russian aggression following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Obama made the announcement after meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, who's hosting the NATO summit in Warsaw. Duda welcomed "decisive support" by the United States.
By using rotating battalions, the U.S. is technically living up to a 1997 treaty with Russia that prohibits "additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces" in eastern Europe, while reassuring Poland and other NATO allies that it has a "solemn, binding" duty to help defend them. Part of that strategy includes pre-positioning heavy equipment and munitions to the regions to be used by rapid-response troops based elsewhere.
The new troop rotation announcement follows a series of steps by NATO to move military personnel and equipment into central and eastern Europe. The U.S. is building advanced radar systems in Germany and Turkey, moving surveillance drones to Italy and stationing troop transports in Hungary.
And in May, the U.S. and Poland broke ground on a new Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System — a land-based version of the anti-ballistic missile system found on U.S. destroyers. That system will become operational by 2018, joining a similar system in Romania and four Aegis destroyers based in Rota, Spain — where Obama is scheduled to visit troops on Sunday.
All of this — including a 10-day NATO military exercise in Poland last month that involved 31,000 soldiers from 24 nations — are calculated to get the attention of Russia, whose involvement in Ukraine and recent close-call flights over U.S. destroyers in the Baltic Sea have heightened tensions in the region.
In Moscow, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin complained about "anti-Russian hysteria" emanating from the NATO summit.
"It is absurd to speak about a threat emanating from Russia when dozens of people die in the center of Europe and hundreds of people die in the Middle East daily," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to the state-run TASS news agency. "Only an absolutely short-sighted organization can distort accents in such a way."