Poland: U.S. moves first missiles, troops near Russian border

On May 26 Polish news media announced that the first American Patriot interceptor missile battery and 100 U.S. troops were officially welcomed by Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, U.S. Ambassador Lee Feinstein and Brigadier General Mark Bellini of U.S. Army Europe at a ceremony in Poland.

American troops, it was further reported, had arrived over the previous weekend from a base in Germany to unload over 37 railway cars and assemble the Patriots in the Polish town of Morag, only 60 kilometers from Russia’s northwestern border in the Kaliningrad district. Details concerning the Patriot deployment and the stationing of as many as 150 U.S. servicemen were finalized in a supplemental Status of Forces Agreement between Washington and Warsaw in February.

One of Britain’s major daily newspapers characterized the development as follows: "The mission amounts to the most significant deployment ever of US forces to Poland, which once was behind the Iron Curtain but is now an enthusiastic member of Nato." [1]

At the unveiling of the missile battery the Polish defense chief stated that "Placing the Patriot batteries in Poland makes the country more secure and contributes to Poland’s cooperation with the U.S," and, allowing for an imperfect translation, "The more America and Europe in Poland, the more Poland in American and European politics." [2]

The Associated Press reminded its readers on the occasion that "The U.S military has previously carried out training exercises in Poland, and has also trained the Polish air force to operate F-16 military fighter planes, which Poland bought to modernize its military."

In fact between November of 2006 and December of 2008 Poland received 48 F-16 Fighting Falcon American warplanes and the Pentagon and NATO conduct regular military exercises – infantry, naval and air – at Polish bases.

What is qualitatively different about this week’s events, though, was spelled out by Andrew Paul, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, who acknowledged "that the Patriot garrison involves a longer time commitment than anything before, and marks ‘the first continuing presence’ of American soldiers and equipment in Poland." [3] The U.S. troops who arrived earlier this week are the first foreign ones based on Polish soil since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact twenty years ago.

Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensees that what is truth on one side of the Pyrenees is falsehood on the other.

The response east of the Polish-Russian border was less enthusiastic than it was on the other side.

On May 28 Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko spoke to a press conference and warned that "if the Patriot missile systems continued to be deployed on a permanent basis, that would be in breach of the pledge that NATO made when signing the Founding Act to the effect that the North Atlantic Alliance nations would refrain from stationing major military forces in the vicinity of the Russian border." [4]

He was referring to a provision of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation signed in Paris in 1997, one which confirms adherence to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) originally signed by the 16 members of NATO and the six members of the Warsaw Pact in 1990. (The former German Democratic Republic was by that point part of a united Federal Republic.)

The 1997 NATO-Russia accord mentions that "Russia and the member States of NATO reaffirm that States Parties to the CFE Treaty should maintain only such military capabilities individually or in conjunction with others, as are commensurate with individual or collective legitimate security needs," and "Russia and the member States of NATO will, together with other States Parties, seek to strengthen stability by further developing measures to prevent any potentially threatening build-up of conventional forces in agreed regions of Europe, to include Central and Eastern Europe."

The document also states that "NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces." [5]

In short, moving NATO, and especially American, troops and military infrastructure into Eastern Europe, a few miles from Russian territory at that, on anything other than a temporary basis – and as was seen above, the U.S. embassy in Warsaw itself identified the new deployment as a "continuing presence" of troops and military equipment in Poland – is an incontrovertible violation of the 1997 NATO-Russia agreement, as it is of the earlier CFE treaty on the reduction of conventional weaponry (tanks, armored personnel carriers, combat aircraft and helicopters, and artillery, to say nothing of missiles) in Europe.

The first two times Washington and NATO deployed Patriot batteries were to Saudi Arabia in 1990-1991 and to Turkey in 2003, in both cases ostensibly to prevent Iraqi retaliation for U.S. and allied attacks. No one in the White House, State Department or the Pentagon has yet to offer an honest explanation for the presence of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles so close to Russia’s border, ones which even with a limited range would, if used, intercept and destroy incoming missiles over Russian territory.

As part of what the Pentagon calls its Phased Adaptive Approach to missile shield deployments in Europe, especially in the east of the continent, Poland has also been mentioned as a prospective site for the stationing of longer range Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors on Aegis class warships in the Baltic Sea, in a land-based version (Aegis Ashore) on the Polish mainland or both.

"[T]he U.S. plans to deploy more powerful anti-ballistic missiles in Europe by 2018-2020. These will probably be silo-based missiles, for example upgraded SM-3 missiles with high runway speeds and interception altitudes exceeding 1,000 kilometers, making it possible to destroy not only ICBM warheads but also ballistic missiles launched by Russia." [6]

The current Patriot missile deployment, coupled as it is with what will certainly be the long-term if not unlimited stationing of American troops on a rotational basis or otherwise, signals an advance over previous, if already persistent and mounting, U.S. and NATO military presence and exercises in Poland, the general Baltic Sea region and throughout Eastern Europe as a whole.

NATO opened its Joint Force Training Centre (JFTC) headquarters in Bydgoszcz, Poland in March of 2004. Since then it has focused on "joint and combined training at the tactical level," particularly for NATO’s war in Afghanistan, and on providing "support to the NATO Response Force (NRF) joint and component commanders in the training and exercising of the NRF…" [7]

Regarding the deployment of Polish troops for combat missions (the nation’s first since World War Two) abroad, four years ago then Polish defense minister, now foreign minister, Radislaw Sikorski spoke of the fact that over 10,000 of his nation’s troops had served in the Iraq war zone and said, "They are the core of the new Polish military. They had not been in a warlike situation for half a century. They go out as civilians in uniform but they come back as real warriors." [8]

Poland will soon have 2,600 soldiers under NATO command in Afghanistan, the largest overseas military deployment in its history, with 400 more troops held in reserve for duty in that war zone. 23 Polish troops have been killed in Iraq and 16 so far in Afghanistan, the nation’s first post-World War II combat and combat-related deaths.

Sikorski’s waxing militant over his nation’s acquisition of its first battle-hardened warriors since the opening days of the Second World War can only be understood in the context of Poland bordering the only two nations in Europe truly not within the U.S. and NATO military orbit (Ukraine’s status in this respect still to be decided): Belarus and Russia.

The Polish foreign minister (since 2007) was a citizen of the United Kingdom from 1984 onward and a resident of the U.S. from 2002-2005 where he was resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. and executive director of the pro-NATO New Atlantic Initiative (he is married to American journalist and fellow former American Enterprise Institute affiliate Anne Applebaum), and returned from the U.S. to become Poland’s defense minister in 2005.

He was back in Washington late last month visiting several of his old haunts. While at the State Department, Sikorski met with his American counterpart Hillary Clinton, who described the government her visitor represented as "one of our closest friends and allies," and pledged the U.S.’s "commitment to Poland’s security."

"A statement issued by the top diplomats said the two allied countries would look to more closely cooperate within NATO and on the future development of a European missile defense program." [9]

The two foreign affairs chiefs also discussed the war in Afghanistan and even – for good measure, to leave out not a single bone of contention with Russia – "Sikorski said if American companies exploring energy resources in Poland ‘strike it lucky,’ it would enhance the energy security of Poland and Europe and forge new investment links between Poland and the United States." [10]

The Polish foreign minister also met with Pentagon chief Robert Gates and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and current U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones (about whom more later) and addressed the annual awards dinner of U.S.’s preeminent advocacy group promoting the globalization of NATO, the Washington, D.C.-based Atlantic Council. Gates promised Sikorski 24 mine-resistant military vehicles for the Afghan war and the latter told the former, "We are there as part of the NATO mission. We’ve gone in together and we will also leave Afghanistan together." [11] Given the boost in Polish troops and American-supplied combat vehicles, that joint departure will not be anytime soon.

Over the past five years, first as defense and now as foreign minister, Sikorski has been a major player in the consolidation of Poland as the Pentagon’s and NATO’s main military outpost in northeastern Europe and, along with Bulgaria and Romania, in so-called New Europe, in New NATO, as a whole.

In 2005 the U.S. signed a ten-year agreement with Romania for the acquisition and upgrading of four military bases and a comparable agreement with Bulgaria the following year for three bases in that country. This February both Black Sea nations disclosed plans to host U.S. Standard Missile-3 installations. In 2006 then U.S. European Command chief and NATO Supreme Allied Commander General James Jones said that the U.S. was planning to use the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in Romania not only for land troops – the U.S. Joint Task Force – East is now headquartered there – "but also for naval and air special units."

"The general added that the east European force [what is now Joint Task Force – East] will significantly improve the U.S.’s capacity to plan, coordinate and carry out operations that regard security cooperation in Eurasia and the Caucasus." [12]

NATO has conducted a now six-year operation in which warplanes from several member states patrol the airspace over the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In the last-named country the Zokniai/Siauliai International Airport is home to the NATO air squads. "The presence of NATO fighters represents a dramatic transformation from Siauliai’s not-so-distant past: the base was until 1992 a Soviet facility and housed types including Ilyushin Il-76-based A-50 airborne early warning and control system aircraft and RSK MiG-29 fighters." [13]

The current four-month rotation which started on April 30 consists of four Polish jet fighters.

The Baltic Sea region is the site of near-continuous NATO and U.S. military maneuvers: The Pentagon is reported to have spent over $1 million recently on road construction and repairs for this year’s Baltic Operations (BALTOPS), annual military exercises which are the largest conducted in the Baltic region. "[T]he U.S. military is carrying out the entire job itself….ahead of June’s NATO military training exercise." [14]

"BALTOPS provides a basis for promoting mutual understanding and maritime platform interoperability between U.S. Navy, NATO, and non-NATO participants through a series of multilateral training exercises in air warfare, shallow water undersea warfare, electronic warfare, air control, air defense, surface warfare, communications, fast patrol boat operations, seamanship, and mine warfare." [15]

BALTOPS 2009 was led by the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 12.

Starting on May 31 U.S. European Command and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) will lead military drills with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the second Baltic Host operation, the first of which was held last year in Estonia. This year’s will be held simultaneously in the capitals of the three Baltic nations and will for the first time include participation by the armed forces of Denmark, Germany, Norway and Poland. "All participants acknowledged the ‘Baltic Host 2009’ exercise to be very successful and agreed on the fact that it should be established as a permanent training cycle organised in the Baltic States." [16]

Last month U.S. troops were among 6,500 forces involved in the NATO Response Force’s Brilliant Mariner exercises in the Baltic and North Seas, along with 31 warships, four submarines and 28 aircraft. "Exercise Brilliant Mariner is an opportunity to really put NATO forces through their paces," said NATO’s maritime commander Admiral Sir Trevor Soar. [17]

Starting in October of 2008 NATO’s Allied Air Component Command Headquarters Ramstein began regular air training exercises over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. "Launched as rehearsal for the NATO Baltic Air policing mission, the events have now turned into a wide-spectrum exercise training air assets to conduct various aspects of air operations….Previous exercises focused on improving means of securing sovereignty of the Baltic airspace as reflected in their former name Baltic Air Sovereignty Training Event (BASTE).

"The exercise was renamed Baltic Region Training Event, BRTE, to highlight the broader tasks of the third event. In the future NATO plans to conduct such type of training on a regular basis during rotations of every air contingent deployed on the air policing mission." [18]

Russia, a Baltic Sea littoral state, was not invited to participate in any of the above exercises. It is the only nation against which such maneuvers are conducted.

The fact that regular, almost uninterrupted, war games are held under U.S. leadership in the Baltic Sea leaves no other interpretation.

Poland, though, is the main U.S. and NATO military ally in the region, as Bulgaria and Romania are on the Black Sea.

As seen above, Poland received the first of 48 U.S. F-15 Fighting Falcon multirole jet fighters in 2006 and the last of them two years later. The purchase was the largest military deal in Poland’s history, one paralleled by Romania’s plans to buy from 48-54 of the same planes, with Bulgaria to follow suit.

At the time of the first delivery to Poland then commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and NATO Allied Air Component, General Tom Hobbins, represented the American Air Force chief of staff at a special ceremony to welcome the U.S. warplanes.

His comments included:

"Poland’s acquisition of the F-16 cements the relationship between the U.S. Air Force and the Polish air force for several decades to come.

"This ceremony demonstrates that Poland has become a very powerful and more vital member of NATO than ever before.

"Poland’s F-16s represent the most sophisticated aircraft in Eastern Europe and will serve as a military-to-military engagement magnet for forces in Europe.

"These aircraft are extremely capable in any of the NATO roles, whether they’re utilized in counter-air missions in the NATO Response Force, or air defense with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan." [19]

The following year, after Bulgarian and Romanian air bases had been acquired by the U.S. and NATO, Hobbins said: "We’re moving in with some of our newest NATO allies like Romania and Bulgaria. One of the best benefits – there is the actual ability to train with these new nations and build a long lasting relationship. It’s being involved, their weapons training detachments allows us to build trust and confidence with our friends and neighbors. Poland is another good example [of] moving east.

"That’s going to bring the newest, most modern and sophisticated fighter to that area of the region. We will actually be able to rotate fighter units through there…." [20]

The suggestion was made by a U.S. Air Force official that F-16s currently stationed at the Aviano Air Base in Italy be transferred to Poland.

In March of 2009 the Pentagon delivered the first of five C-130 Hercules military transport planes to Poland, the last expected to arrive this summer. The U.S. commander in charge of the transfer said at the time, "Ultimately they want to deploy C-130s to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Our mission is the help assist them to become fully operational to NATO standards." [20]

"According to Brig. Gen. Tadeusz Mikutel, Poland’s 33rd Air Base commander, the Hercules will be the biggest of the country’s aircraft." [21]

The preceding month the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita (The Republic) revealed that NATO had allotted over one billion euros for the development of military infrastructure in Poland. "The modernisation of seven military airports, two sea ports, five large fuel bases (12 are planned) and six strategic long-range aerial radars has already been completed." [22]

In addition, NATO will equip "military airfields in Powidz, Lask and Minsk Mazowiecki with new installations to improve the logistical and defence capacity of these bases.

"Air defence headquarters are to be set up in Poznan, Warsaw and Bydgoszcz; a radio communications centre will be located in Wladyslawowo on the Baltic coast.

"A newly built training centre in Bydgoszcz should be fully equipped [with] computer devices by the end of the year (total cost EUR 40 million)." [23]

In June of 2009 Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said that NATO would inaugurate a Joint Battle Command Centre in the northern city of Bydgoszcz where NATO has run a Joint Force Training Centre since 2004.

The defense chief said, "The Alliance has made the decision to open a new NATO cell, a new joint regiment within NATO. According to the decision, commanders from three regiments will be located in Bydgoszcz.

"In Bydgoszcz, we will have the permanent commanders of [a] battalion and other components: one of six joint mobile modules, a security component and logistics and support operators," which include approximately 200 NATO troops.

Klich added "that NATO has decided to heavily invest in Poland by modernizing military infrastructure including air and sea bases." [24]

On the same day the same source, Polish Radio, reported that "Poland will appoint seven generals to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. One of them will be deployed in the NATO headquarters in Norfolk, USA. [Allied Command Transformation.]

"Poland will have twice as many generals in NATO’s structures as a result of the alliance’s command reform and recognition of Polish troops who participate in NATO’s missions." [25]

In October Klich disclosed that his ministry would "spend about 60 billion zloty (12.3 billion euro) by the year 2018 to modernize Poland’s armed forces," with emphasis on "14 programs: air defense systems, combat and cargo helicopters, naval modernization, espionage and unmanned aircraft, training simulators and equipment for soldiers…." [26]

By November the Polish Air Force had flown over 100 missions with the first U.S. C-130 troop transport plane, and according to a Polish military official "the entire donation of five totally refurbished aircraft, support equipment, supplies, training, and contracted logistics support, is valued at $120 million and 100 percent funded through bilateral military assistance grant money." [27]

Poland’s air bases, particularly that at Powidz where the U.S. has conducted special forces training, and training sites like that at Wedrzyn where American troops have provided combat instruction, regularly host U.S. and NATO military personnel in support of operations that have nothing at all to do with the defense of the host nation.

An analysis of over two years ago placed the intensified U.S. military buildup in Poland in perspicuous and convincing perspective:

"Poland will give the United States a minimum of two things when it agrees to [a] missile base on Polish soil. It gives the US a base from which it can challenge Russia and a leveraged increase in troops on the ground in Europe.

"The unspoken issue is that the United States will have a base in Poland that will fix the Polish border and that Poland will have the United States behind it to protect that border. [I]t puts US troops, albeit small numbers, in the Russian ‘near abroad’. It tells Russia, you tread on Poland, you tread on the US.

"It is a clever and cheap way for the US to build an anti-Russian army in Eastern Europe. Just provide the equipment and let someone else maintain it and provide the manpower. Let Poland worry about paying and training the troops.

"The end result is that the United States can extend its influence through a low cost Army in Poland." [28]

By setting up a Patriot missile battery 35 miles from Russian territory and basing troops there, Washington is well on its way to achieving that objective.


[1]. The Telegraph, May 24, 2010

[2]. Polish Radio, May 26, 2010

[3]. Associated Press, May 24, 2010

[4]. Voice of Russia, May 28, 2010

[5]. Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation, http://tinyurl.com/2g5c6vg

[6]. Russian Information Agency Novosti, February 24, 2010

[7]. Bulgaria Online, December 1, 2005

[8]. International Herald Tribune, January 24, 2006

[9]. RTT News, April 30, 2010

[10]. Ibid

[11]. Ibid

[12]. Bucharest Daily News, March 13, 2006

[13]. Flight International, May 29, 2009

[14]. Baltic Course, May 26, 2010

[15]. Global Security.org, http://tinyurl.com/2bmg5am

[16]. Defence Professionals (Germany), May 25, 2010

[17]. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, April 14, 2010

[18]. Baltic Course, September 15, 2009

[19]. Air Force Link, November 14, 2006

[20]. Air Force News, March 14, 2007

[21]. U.S. Air Forces in Europe, June 24, 2009

[22]. United States European Command, February 4, 2009

[23]. Polish Market, April 14, 2009

[24]. Ibid

[25]. Polish Radio, June 12, 2009

[26]. Polish Radio, June 12, 2009

[27]. Polish Radio, October 27, 2009

[28]. U.S. Air Forces in Europe, November 12, 2009

[29]. Eastern European Review (US), March 26, 2008, http://tinyurl.com/2gygzbo