WASHINGTON, D.C.: Poland’s defense minister has said US ground forces will be sent to his country to expand the presence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) presence there as events unfold in neighboring Ukraine, The Washington Post reported.
Tomasz Siemoniak told the Post on Friday (Saturday in Manila) that details were already being worked out and that Poland would play a leading regional role “under US patronage” in the plan expected to be announced next week.
He added that US ground troops would also likely be sent to the Baltic states, under the push to increase NATO’s presence in Central and Eastern Europe.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby meanwhile said a range of measures were being considered to bolster air, maritime and ground readiness in Europe.
“Some of those activities will be pursued bilaterally with individual NATO nations. Some will be pursued through the Alliance itself,” he added.
Siemoniak said it was still too soon to know if an agreement on the Ukraine crisis thrashed out in Geneva on Thursday would ameliorate tension in the region. The deal is the first sign of progress between Russia and the West in a months-long standoff.
During a Thursday news conference with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Siemoniak stopped short of calling for the establishment of US military bases, as requested by the conservative Polish opposition.
But, said Hagel, “there may be some new opportunities for rotational-basis forces.”
Hagel also reassured NATO members such as the Baltic states and Poland that Washington was “fully” committed to making sure their territory is respected, in accordance with NATO obligations.
Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, the Pentagon has sent 12 F-16 fighter jets and their support teams to Poland.
Hagel said the planes would stay there until the end of the year, as he called on other European NATO members to contribute reinforcements.
Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has balked at setting up bases in members-states that once belonged to the Soviet bloc, in an effort to avoid angering Russia.
Easter truce shattered
At Slavyansk, Ukraine, four people were reported killed on Sunday in a gun battle in restive eastern Ukraine, shattering a fragile Easter truce in the crisis-hit former Soviet republic.
Three pro-Russian militants and one attacker were killed in a deadly firefight at a road block close to the separatist-held town of Slavyansk, local leader Vyatcheslav Ponomarev said.
The identity of the assailants was not known. Kiev’s interim government had pledged a halt to military operations to oust the rebels until the end of the Orthodox Easter holidays on Monday.
A pro-Russian militant at the scene told Agence France-Presse that roughly 20 attackers in four cars had opened fire with automatic weapons on the rebel post early on Sunday. He could not, however, confirm any casualties.
The reported violence came as the United States was pressing Russia to persuade the pro-Kremlin rebels to abide by an international accord calling for them to surrender their weapons and leave occupied public buildings.
Overnight, Orthodox leaders in Kiev and Moscow traded barbs over the Ukraine crisis as politics overshadowed traditional Easter observances. Patriarch Filaret thundered to the faithful in pro-West Kiev that Russia was an “enemy” whose “attack” on Ukraine was doomed to failure, because it was evil and contrary to God’s will.
In Moscow, the patriarch of the Russian Church, Kirill, delivered a prayer for Ukraine in which he called on God in turn to put “an end to the designs of those who want to destroy Holy Russia.”
Kirill said that while Ukraine was “politically” separate, “spiritually and historically” it was at one with Russia, and he prayed that it would benefit from authorities that are “legitimately elected.”
In comments to be broadcast on US television on Sunday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk lashed out at Russian President Vladimir Putin—whom Kiev and Washington accuse of masterminding the insurgency in Ukraine—for having a “dream to restore the Soviet Union.”
Yatsenyuk, speaking to NBC’s “Meet the Press,” also condemned those who reportedly handed out pamphlets demanding Jews register or be expelled in the east of Ukraine as “these bastards” who should be brought to justice.