​There to stay: US troops keep Poland, Baltic deployment for 2015

​There to stay: US troops keep Poland, Baltic deployment for 2015
A ‘temporary’ deployment of US troops in Poland and the Baltic states has been extended through 2015, a US commander in Europe said. NATO sells its presence as a deterrent to an ‘aggressive Russia’, with Moscow countering that it only escalates tension.

The alliance deployed several hundred US troops in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia earlier this year. The move was explained by a desire to give confidence to these NATO members after the political crisis in Ukraine and the secession of its region of Crimea to rejoin Russia. The alliance called it an annexation and said countries in the region feared that Moscow would militarily attack them.

Originally the troops were supposed to stay until the end of the year, but now NATO wants to keep them for at least 12 months more, said Lieutenant-General Frederick Ben Hodges, Commanding General of US Army Europe.

"We have planned rotations out through next year. Units are designated that will continue to do this," Hodges told journalist in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

"There are going to be US Army forces here in Lithuania, as well as Estonia and Latvia and Poland, for as long as is required to deter Russian aggression and to assure our allies," he said as cited by Reuters.

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A 1997 Russia-NATO agreement forbids the alliance from having troops permanently stationed in the Baltic States, so the deployment remains a temporary mission. However, it’s not immediately clear when, if ever, NATO would consider the perceived threat of a Russian aggression no longer valid and withdraw the troops.

U.S. soldiers deployed in Latvia sit in an Abrams tank during a drill at Adazi military base October 14, 2014. (Reuters / Ints Kalnins)

Washington’s assurances to its eastern NATO partners were also delivered last week through diplomatic channels.

“When NATO and the US as part of NATO took new members into the alliance, this means that we are ready to participate in the defense of the security of these countries, and this means that we are ready to give our lives for the security of these countries,” said US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland during a visit to Latvia.

Amid the Ukrainian crisis, Poland and the Baltic states have been among the most vocal critics of Russia. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite went as far as branding Russia ‘a terrorist state’ last week, prompting some Russian MPs to call for the severing of diplomatic ties with Vilnius.

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Russia considers the build-up of NATO troops close to its borders provocative and dangerous. Moscow’s envoy to the alliance Aleksandr Grushko said NATO “is turning the Baltic region, which used to be militarily calm, into an area of military confrontation with Russia.”

The Russian military said it would respond to the emerging NATO threat from the Baltic with appropriate countermoves.