Polish leader presses NATO on permanent presence

18th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

Polish President Andrzej Duda pressed NATO on Monday to establish "as permanent as possible" a presence in eastern Europe to counter a growing threat from Russia after its intervention in Ukraine.

"I insist on one thing, that this presence should be as permanent as possible to give a security guarantee," Duda told a press conference with NATO head Jens Stoltenberg after they met at alliance headquarters in Brussels.

Duda said NATO should not "neglect dialogue with Russia" but the Ukraine crisis and especially Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014 showed there could be no compromise on security.

Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its takeover of the Crimean peninsula sparked fears NATO was too slow and unwieldy to meet the challenge posed by what Stoltenberg said was "a more assertive Russia."

But the US-led military alliance was now revitalised and capable of maintaining "a persistent presence in a region of which Poland is a part," Stoltenberg said.

Poland has led demands for a permanent NATO presence in the former communist states once ruled from Moscow but NATO and the West have been cautious for fear of being accused by Russia of breaching key treaties ending the Cold War.

These agreements ban NATO setting up permanent military bases in eastern Europe but do allow the alliance to hold exercises and rotate limited forces through the area.

In November, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski called for one of the treaties -- the 1997 Founding Act on NATO-Russia relations -- to be scrapped so that his country could host permanent bases.

Moscow shot back: "We consider these statements to be extraordinarily dangerous and exceptionally provocative."

Since the Ukraine conflict, NATO has established a high-speed response force complete with forward command and logistic centres in its eastern members so it can deploy much more rapidly.

NATO says these forces are very small and cannot be considered bases, and while the overhaul may have been driven by the Ukraine crisis, the revamp is equally aimed at dealing with new threats emerging on its southern borders in the Middle East and North Africa.

NATO's 28 member states also agreed to reverse years of defence cuts and increase spending to the equivalent of two percent of annual economic output by 2020 -- a target Poland already meets.

Poland hosts a NATO summit in July when all these changes will be formally concluded.

© 2016 AFP

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