Poland said Sunday it is negotiating with the United States to permanently station heavy American military weaponry inside its borders, part of a U.S. plan under consideration to bolster its presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states to deter possible Russian aggression.
The Polish Defense Ministry said the plan would call for the U.S. to deploy battle tanks and other equipment in Poland. Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said he discussed the plan with U.S. military officials in Washington last month and was assured a decision would be made soon.
"This is another step to increase U.S. presence in Poland and the region," Warsaw's Defense Ministry said.
If approved by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and President Barack Obama, the U.S. would store fighting vehicles and position as many as 5,000 troops in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Poland and possibly Hungary, all countries once part of the Soviet sphere of influence.
It would be the first time the U.S. has embarked on such a military presence in the region since the end of the Cold War. It is part of the NATO military alliance's plan to develop rapid deployment "Spearhead" forces to deter any further Russian intervention beyond its annexation last year of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and a signal that the U.S. would come to the defense of its NATO allies in Eastern Europe.
The U.S. consideration of the military buildup is a response to the Crimean takeover and the West's contention that Moscow is continuing to support pro-Russian insurgents fighting Kyiv's forces for control of eastern Ukraine, an argument Russian President Vladimir Putin rejects.
"If something happens, we can't wait days or weeks for more equipment," Raimonds Vejonis, Latvia's minister of defense told The New York Times, which first disclosed consideration of the buildup. "We need to react immediately."
Last week, an opinion poll showed residents of several NATO member countries blame Russia for the Ukrainian crisis, but would be reluctant for their governments to provide military aid to Ukraine or any NATO-member country attacked Russia.
The results from the Pew Global Attitudes Project poll comes at a time when tensions between Russia and the West have deteriorated to a level unseen since the Cold War. The NATO nations that border Russia — the Baltics and Poland — have stepped up military exercises and spending to counter possible Russian aggression.
Article 5 of the NATO charter requires that member nations defend one another if one comes under attack.