- Poles wave US flags as tanks and other vehicles head toward base in Zagan
- Polish premier and defense minister to hold official welcoming ceremony
- Deployment of 3,500 troops on Russia’s doorstep is the first ever by a NATO ally
- Russian actions in Ukraine have stoked fears of Moscow’s intentions
- Putin aide denounced the move as a threat to Russian national security
American soldiers rolled into Poland on Thursday, fulfilling a dream some Poles have had since the fall of communism in 1989 to have US troops on their soil as a deterrent against Russia.
Some people waved and held up American flags as US troops in tanks and other vehicles crossed into southwestern Poland from Germany and headed toward the town of Zagan, where they will be based.
Poland’s prime minister and defense minister will welcome them in an official ceremony Saturday.
‘This is the fulfillment of a dream,’ said Michal Baranowski, director of the German Marshall Fund think tank in Warsaw.
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US Army soldiers are welcomed in an official military ceremony in Zagan, Poland, on Thursday
US Army vehicles are seen above as they cross the Polish border in Olszyna, Poland from Germany
The first deployment of US troops crossed into western Poland on Thursday
‘And this is not just a symbolic presence but one with a real capability.’
US and other Western nations have carried out exercises on NATO’s eastern flank in past years, but the new deployment — which includes some 3,500 US troops — marks the first-ever continuous deployment to the region by a NATO ally.
It is part of a larger commitment by President Barack Obama to protect a region that grew deeply nervous when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then began backing separatist rebels in Ukraine’s east.
There are fears, however, that the enhanced security could eventually be undermined by the pro-Kremlin views of President-elect Donald Trump.
The GIs are part of deterrence force of some 1,000 troops to be based in Zagan
An unidentified soldier uses an iPhone to snap photos of a convoy of military vehicles rolling into Poland on Thursday
A Military Police officer is seen (left) as a US Army vehicle crosses the Polish border in Olszyna
The deployment of 3,500 American soldiers marks the first-ever continuous deployment to the region by a NATO ally
A US soldier (left) is welcomed by a Polish army official as US Army vehicles cross the Polish border in Olszyna, Poland
American and Polish soldiers attend a welcome ceremony of the US troops convoy in Zagan, Poland, on Thursday
An American (right) and a Polish soldier (left) check documents in Zagan, Poland, on Thursday
An American (left) and a Polish soldier (right) chat during an official welcome ceremony of the US troops convoy in Zagan, Poland, on Thursday
US (left) and Polish soldiers (right) march in a procession during the official welcome ceremony in Zagan, Poland, on Thursday
Poland and the Baltic states also feel threatened by Russia’s recent deployment of nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian territory wedged between Poland and Lithuania.
But Russia says it’s the one who is threatened.
‘These actions threaten our interests, our security,’ President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.
‘Especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders. It’s not even a European state.’
Worries about the permanence of the new US security commitments are rooted in a tragic national history in which Poland has often lost out in deals made by the great powers.
Poles still feel betrayed by Obama’s ‘reset’ with Russia early on in his administration, which involved abandoning plans for a major US missile defense system in Poland and replacing it with plans for a less ambitious system, still not in place.
‘All recent US presidents have thought there can be a grand bargain with Russia,’ said Marcin Zaborowski, a senior associate at Visegrad Insight, an analytic journal on Central Europe.
‘Trump has a proclivity to make deals, and Central and Eastern Europe have reason to worry about that.’
Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski expressed hope this week that any new effort at reconciliation with Russia ‘does not happen at our expense.’
The armored brigade combat team arriving in Poland hails from Fort Carson, Colorado.
The troops arrived last week in Germany and are gathering in Poland before units will fan out across seven countries from Estonia to Bulgaria.
A headquarters unit will be stationed in Germany. After nine months they will be replaced by another unit.
In a separate but related mission, NATO will also deploy four battalions to its eastern flank later this year, one each to Poland and the three Baltic states.
The US will also lead one of those battalions.