Warsaw, Poland – While U.S. and Polish officials are finalizing a defence cooperation agreement ahead of Polish President Andrzej Duda’s visit to the White House this week, local media reports that the planned relocation of 9,500 US troops from Germany to Poland is “imminent”.
30 F-16 fighter planes should also be relocated from Germany to Poland while the headquarters of the V Corps of the U.S. Army, formerly known as the Fifth Corps, will be moved from Fort Knox in Kentucky, to Poland.
There are currently roughly 5.000 troops based in Poland on a rotational basis as part of Nato’s pledge to increase its readiness and military capabilities on its Eastern flank.
Intensifiying U.S.-Polish relations
After the announcement of the planned defence agreement last year, U.S.-Polish relations have been intensifying, with both sides examining a range of options, from the establishment of a so-called ‘Fort Trump’ American base to increasing the size of U.S. forces already established in the country and changing the status of part of them from a ‘rotating’ to a ‘permanent’ presence.
“We have 52.000 troops in Germany, and Germany is not living up to what they’re supposed to be doing with respect to Nato, and Poland is”, Donald Trump told reporters last year during a joint press conference with visiting Polish President Andrzej Duda. “I have to congratulate you. Thank you very much. But Poland is paying the max”.
While the highly-anticipated announcement fell short of committing to a permanent U.S. military base in Poland, Trump commented that the U.S. was “very interested” in that idea, with observers warning that this would trigger a strong response from Moscow, which might see it as a violation of the 1997 Nato-Russia agreement.
Since then, the two countries inaugurated a new divisional headquarters in Poland, headed by a U.S. general, and have made progress establishing a combat training centre there, a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday.
When the final defence agreement is signed, the U.S. Air Force plans to rotate an MQ-9 Reaper reconnaissance drone squadron into Poland and establish an aerial port there, the official said but did not mention plans for naming a military base in honour of the U.S. president “Fort Trump.”
Germany, Russia and a tense geopolitical context
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Robert O’Brien, the White House national security adviser, explains the decision to cut the number of U.S. troops in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000 was indeed in response to the country’s failure to meet the promise of raising defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2024, which is a Nato commitment.
He writes that despite being the world’s fourth largest economy, Germany only spends 1.4% of its GDP on defence, while other Nato members, like Poland, have kept to the 2% promise.
Claiming that “to counter China and Russia, two great-power competitors, U.S. forces must be deployed abroad in a more forward and expeditionary manner than they have been in recent years”, O’Brien also makes a link to Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
Designed by Moscow to increase gas supplies to Germany through the Baltic Sea by bypassing overland routes crossing through Ukraine and Poland, the pipeline project remains a priority for Moscow despite sanctions by the U.S., which says the pipeline would make Europe too reliant on Russia for energy, leaving it in Moscow’s political grip.
In line with the U.S., Poland also opposes the project: “Nord Stream 2 is a project that Poland has criticized from the very beginning, as it does not ensure energy security and makes Europe dependent on deliveries of one supplier”, said the country’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said at a joint press conference with Germany’s Heiko Maas, who was on a visit to Warsaw.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in January during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he hoped the project would be completed in early 2021 at the latest.
Earlier this month, Poland was hit with a wave of fake news stories, including a phony interview with a U.S. commander ridiculing allied militaries, days before a major NATO military exercise in the country, which was blamed on Moscow.