WARSAW (Reuters) - The United States will store heavy military equipment at two sites in Poland from mid-2016, Poland’s defense minister said, a part of Washington’s efforts to reassure allies made uneasy by Russian actions in Ukraine.
The move will mark the first time Washington has stored heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member states in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, which were once under the Soviet sphere of influence or were part of the Soviet Union.
In June, a senior Russian Defense Ministry official warned that Moscow would strengthen its forces on its Western flank should the U.S. store heavy arms in the Baltic states and eastern Europe.
“Following reconnaissance, after talks with American partners, two sites have been selected to store heavy equipment of the U.S. military - one in western Poland, and one in north-eastern Poland,” Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak told state press agency PAP on Thursday. “We foresee that the pre-positioning will take place in mid-2016.”
He did not say what kind of equipment would be sent to Poland or exactly where in each region it would be stored. North-eastern Poland borders on Belarus, a nominal ally of Russia.
Siemoniak said that he wants the ongoing talks with the U.S. to be concluded by the start of October this year. The pre-positioning would be combined with the U.S. military units’ participation in military exercises, he said.
In June, a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that the Pentagon was poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons in the region, enough for as many as 5,000 troops.
The official said the proposal envisaged storing a company’s worth of equipment, enough for about 150 soldiers, in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Enough equipment for a company or possibly a battalion, about 750 soldiers, would also be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary.
Reporting by Wiktor Szary