The US is deploying 600 troops to Poland and the Baltics to highlight its commitment to NATO allies amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine, officials said on Tuesday.
In a show of solidarity, a company of 150 soldiers from the US Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza, Italy, was to arrive in Poland yesterday, while approximately 450 troops are due in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in the coming days as part of a series of exercises due to last at least through the end of the year, a Pentagon spokesman said.
“Since Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine, we have been constantly looking at ways to reassure our allies and partners,” US Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference.
The deployment of US troops is “a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe,” he said, adding that the move also sent a “message to Moscow” that “we [the US] take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”
The troops flying to the region this week will be in place for a month before they are replaced by other US forces in an open-ended series of deployments, Kirby said.
“How far will this go? I can’t give you a specific ... deadline or timeline on it, but we’re looking at trying to keep this rotational presence persistent throughout the rest of this year,” the admiral said.
The move is Washington’s latest bid to soothe concerns among NATO allies in Eastern Europe, where Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula has sparked growing alarm.
Since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, the US military has sent 12 F-16 fighter jets and aviation support teams to Poland.
The Pentagon spokesman said he could not rule out the possibility that the army exercises and training could be extended to other NATO countries in the region.
Kirby said the exercises were “bilateral” US operations and not NATO exercises, but he added that the deployments did not reflect any reluctance by other alliance members to send ground troops to countries bordering Russia.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine have fostered solidarity in the alliance and prompted NATO members “to coalesce in ways that, quite frankly, we haven’t had to do before,” he said.
The announcement coincided with an escalating situation in Ukraine, where the government said on Tuesday that it relaunched military operations against pro-Kremlin separatists in the country’s east.
US Vice President Joe Biden ended a two-day visit to the capital, Kiev, with a warning to Russia over its actions in the former Soviet republic.
“We have been clear that more provocative behavior by Russia will lead to more costs and to greater isolation,” Biden said.
However Moscow regards Kiev’s leaders as illegitimate and has blamed them for recent violence, which has plunged East-West relations to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.