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Poland wants NATO summit to okay more troops for eastern Europe

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Poland wants NATO to agree to deploy ‘substantial’ numbers of forces and equipment in central and eastern Europe to ensure the region’s security in the face of a more aggressive Russia, President Andrzej Duda said on Monday.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (R) hold a joint news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

A former Moscow satellite, Warsaw will host a NATO summit in July when it is expected to press for an increased presence of NATO forces on its soil and in former communist-ruled Europe.

Russia has threatened to retaliate against any such moves and some NATO members, including Germany, are skeptical of the idea for fear of antagonizing Moscow.

But Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, 2014, support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine and a Russian military build-up have provided Poland and other eastern NATO members with new arguments with which to press their case.

Duda, speaking at a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, said he wanted the July summit to take practical decisions to boost security in the region.

“Today, everything points to the need to have substantial presence of both infrastructure and military units on the ground in central European countries, as well as a well worked-out system for these units and defense should there be any act of aggression,” Duda said.

“That means increasing presence in central-eastern Europe, both in terms of infrastructure and in terms of troops of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This is to be agreed ... what shape this presence would take,” Duda said.

“I would want it to be permanent to the greatest extent possible,” he said, adding that would require drafting precise contingency plans in the event of attack and more joint military drills.

Some governments have asked NATO to establish a permanent troop presence in former Warsaw Pact countries, but the alliance has instead offered to beef up exercises and rotate forces in and out of the region.

NATO chief Stoltenberg appeared to express sympathy for Poland’s view. “NATO now has a persistent military presence in the region, of which Poland is part. And I trust that after the Warsaw summit we would see more NATO in Poland than ever before,” he said.

Russia in its military doctrine has named NATO as a key risk to its security amid deteriorating ties with the West over the conflict in Ukraine. But the West also needs Russia’s help in dealing with terrorism and fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Richard Balmforth