As Russian troops continue to amass on the borders of Ukraine, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is visiting allies in Warsaw, Poland, and then moving to meet with U.S. and Polish troops working together at Powidz Air Base.
Austin and Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak spoke during a press conference. Both men said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is miscalculating. "What Mr. Putin did not want to see happen was a stronger NATO on his flank, and that's exactly what he will see," Austin said.
Later in the day, Austin will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Poland is "a model NATO ally," said a senior defense official traveling with Austin. The nation is modernizing its forces, and, as part of that, Austin announced the United States will sell 250 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks to Poland.
Austin noted that Polish soldiers fought alongside U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. "And today, our relationship could not be stronger," he said.
Poland regularly hosts more than 4,000 enduring, rotational U.S. military personnel — the fourth largest concentration of U.S. forces in Europe. "And, of course, in light of Russian force buildups near Ukraine, we appreciate Poland for hosting an additional 4,700 U.S. soldiers who are prepared to respond to a range of contingencies," the secretary said.
U.S. forces will work closely with U.S. State Department personnel and Polish authorities should there be a need to help Americans leave Ukraine, the secretary said.
Beyond the current situation, the United States and Poland are firm partners in developing Poland's defense capabilities. In addition to the Abrams tanks, "Poland has chosen to acquire F-35 fighter aircraft, Patriot air defense batteries, and high-mobility artillery rocket systems," Austin said. These systems ensure U.S. and Polish forces are interoperable.
Austin also commended Poland for consistently meeting NATO's spending and defense investment target. Poland spends at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, and more than 20 percent of that money is spent on modernization. In a generation, Poland has gone from a Soviet-era military to a modern, combined-arms, interoperable force.
Poland is also a leader of the frontline states working with the Baltic republics to enhance readiness and defend the easternmost allies, Austin said.
"Europe is now facing challenges to international peace and stability," the secretary said. "For one, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continues to cruelly promote the forced migration of thousands of displaced persons from the Middle East to Poland and the rest of the European Union."
The entire alliance stands with Ukraine in supporting its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, and its right to choose its own path in its relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world."
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III
But Russia remains the main disturber of the peace in the region. Błaszczak and Austin discussed the way forward with NATO's other defense ministers during meetings the past two days in Brussels. The two men continued their discussions in Warsaw.
"Any Russian attack or further incursion into Ukraine would not only ignite conflict, it would also violate the bedrock principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination," Austin said. "The deployment of thousands of Russian forces in Belarus — in addition to the thousands surrounding Ukraine to the east and south — puts some of those forces within 200 miles of the Polish border."
If Russia launches another invasion of Ukraine, Poland could see a flood of Ukrainian refugees "trying to save themselves and their families from the scourge of war," Austin said. "To be clear, and as I said yesterday in Brussels, there is still time and space for diplomacy. The United States — in lockstep with our allies and partners, including Poland — has offered [Russian President Vladimir] Putin a path away from crisis and toward greater security. Whatever path he chooses, the United States, our allies and our partners will be ready."
And Austin said the rest of the NATO allies will also be ready. "The entire alliance stands with Ukraine in supporting its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, and its right to choose its own path in its relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world," he said. "Poland and the United States, in solidarity with our allies, will continue to work together to overcome any challenge to European peace and stability and any future challenges to come."