August 17, 2015 / 9:13 AM / 4 years ago

Poland's new president to push for NATO troops on first trip: source

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s new President Andrzej Duda will visit Estonia next week to launch a campaign to push NATO to deploy more troops in the region, a senior source said on Monday, amid fears of mounting Russian assertiveness.

Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks during a visit to Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland August 13, 2015. REUTERS/Lukasz Wegrzyn/Agencja Gazeta

Poland and the Baltic states, spooked by Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region last year, have repeatedly asked NATO to station forces permanently in their territories along the alliance’s eastern flank.

But Germany and other alliance members, wary of Russia’s response, have rebuffed the appeals and opted instead to intensify joint exercises and rotate troops through the region.

Russia has said it would see any significant deployment of forces close to its borders as an aggressive act.

Duda’s first foreign trip since he was sworn in on Aug. 6 would be a show of solidarity with the Baltic states, the source told Reuters. The president has said he will push NATO members to approve a troop deployment at a summit next year.

“Because of its size and economic and military potential, Poland wants to take upon itself to build a unified front in the region, for example with regards to NATO armies’ permanent presence, and the visit marks the beginning of this process,” the source said.

“The President wants to show that Poland stands arm in arm not only with our strongest partners, but also with those who may need our support,” the source added.

The visit will take place on Aug. 23, the source added, the anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact, a 1939 non-aggression treaty between the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

The pact’s secret protocol divided territories of Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence.

The presidential press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Eye-to-eye encounters with Russian combat jets and reports of suspected submarines in Swedish and Finnish waters are fuelling regional concerns about Russian intentions, in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

Reporting by Wiktor Szary and Pawel Sobczak; Writing by Wiktor Szary; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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