- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2018

Russia threatened retaliation Monday after news that Poland wants a permanent U.S. military base within its borders and is willing to pay up to $2 billion for the facility.

The proposal for an American base touched off a rhetorical firestorm between Moscow and Warsaw, as leaders from both sides traded threats and cast a fresh spotlight on simmering tensions in Eastern Europe.

U.S. officials had no immediate comment on the Polish plan, but Moscow seized the opportunity Monday — on an otherwise quiet Memorial Day in Washington — to push back hard against potential attempts by the Trump administration to bolster the U.S. military presence in the region.

“These expansionist steps, certainly, result in counteractions of the Russian side to balance the parity which is violated every time this way,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

A key Russian senator went further, suggesting Poland would make itself a target if the plan for a permanent American base comes to fruition.

Poland will become “the object of a retaliatory strike,” said Vladimir Dzhabarov, who serves on the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, according to Russian media.

State Department officials declined to comment Monday, beyond saying U.S. officials were aware of the reports and monitoring the situation, which comes less than a year after President Trump visited Warsaw and spoke of a “special bond” between the U.S. and Poland.

Poland’s proposal also comes three months after Moscow deployed advanced nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a slice of Russia wedged between Poland and Lithuania.

Polish officials made no secret of their motivations Monday, arguing that a permanent U.S. military presence in Poland would act as a check against Russia.

A document outlining the base proposal was first reported on and published by the Polish news site Onet.

The document cites Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, its support of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, its cyberattacks against the U.S. during the 2016 presidential election cycle, and other actions as proof that steps must be taken to push back against Moscow’s aggressive stance.

“Permanent U.S. troops in Poland will send a clear message to Russia of U.S. support for its Eastern European allies,” the Polish Defense Ministry said in the proposal.

Poland’s commitment to provide significant support that may reach $1.5 billion - $2 billion by establishing joint military installations and provide for more flexible movement of U.S. forces,” the document said. “Together, the United States and Poland can build an even stronger bond — one which guarantees the safety, security and freedom of its people for generations to come.”

By offering to pay in full for the construction of the base, the Polish plan fits with President Trump’s call for NATO members — Poland has been a member since 1999 — to beef up their own financial contributions to the alliance.

The offer also comes at a moment when Warsaw appears to be cozying up to the Trump administration on other international matters, most notably the Iran nuclear deal.

Most European officials over the past several days have tried to find ways to keep the Obama-era nuclear deal alive as the U.S. eyes economic sanctions against European companies and others doing business with Tehran.

But Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz made headlines Monday by stating flatly that his country opposes any EU action that would weaken the impending American sanctions — a move that could drive a wedge between Poland and its European allies but also curry favor with the White House.

Meanwhile, Polish officials say they’ve held talks with their American counterparts about their hopes for a military base, The Associated Press reported, and that lawmakers on Capitol Hill have begun conversations with the Pentagon about whether such a base is feasible.

The Defense Department declined to comment on the matter Monday.

Poland currently hosts some American forces, but they’re in the country on a temporary basis. The closest permanent bases are in eastern Germany.

Former President Barack Obama dispatched about 3,000 U.S. troops to Poland in January 2017, a deployment that angered Moscow. The forces have conducted joint training exercises with their Polish counterparts.

Since then, the two nations’ militaries have taken part in other joint operations, including “Exercise Puma” in February, which also included British troops and air defense artillery from Romania and Croatia.

On a related front, the U.S. and Poland inked a nearly $5 billion arms deal two months ago, with Warsaw agreeing to buy a leading American missile defense system. The deal was seen as a serious step by Poland to prepare itself for potential Russian aggression in the region.

When Mr. Trump was in Warsaw last July he declared that the U.S. and Poland share a “strong alliance” and that his administration is “committed to maintaining peace and security in Central and Eastern Europe.”

But the president also has made crystal clear that he’s not willing to put American taxpayers on the hook for European nations’ security — a fact Polish officials seem keenly aware of.

“It is important to share the burden of defense spending, make the decision more cost-effective for the U.S. government, and allay any concerns for Congress in uncertain budgetary times,” the Polish Defense Ministry said in Monday’s base proposal.

At the same time, Warsaw appears eager to lead the charge with rhetorical jabs at Moscow.

Hours after news of the U.S. base proposal broke, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki opened up a fresh line of attack against Russia, telling an audience at a NATO meeting in Warsaw that Moscow is wielding its energy resources as a “new hybrid weapon” that could destabilize the region.

Specifically, he criticized the proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would funnel huge amounts of Russian natural gas directly to Germany, bypassing Poland and other European states.

Mr. Morawiecki called the project, one of Moscow’s most ambitious energy initiatives in recent years, a “poisoned pill of European security.”

U.S. officials also have come out strongly against Nord Stream 2 and have suggested Washington might level further economic sanctions against Russia if the pipeline moves forward.


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