As Western leaders converge to commemorate Poland’s emergence from Communist rule, Warsaw is urging the NATO military alliance to build permanent bases within its borders to contain Russian aggression.
Marcin Bosacki, the Polish ambassador to Canada, said Tuesday his country is proposing a “strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank” in light of Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and Moscow’s efforts to destabilize Kiev.
“As we see in Ukraine, for some aggressive countries, a vacuum of power creates hunger and opportunities,” he said.
Mr. Bosacki was travelling with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he prepares to meet with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk ahead of a Group of Seven summit later this week, when standing up to Russia and rebuilding Ukraine are expected to dominate the session. World leaders are visiting Warsaw to help celebrate the Polish Day of Freedom, which marks the 25th anniversary of elections that marked the beginning of the end of Communist rule across the Soviet Union and its satellite states.
Poland’s proposal echoes what senior military commanders at NATO have discussed in recent weeks.
Mr. Bosacki said the Polish government finds Mr. Harper to be on the same page when it comes to the need for strengthening and “reinvigorating NATO,” as well as on the need to keep sanctions pressure on Russia. “The Polish government finds Canada now in terms of strategic thinking as one of the closest allies,” he said.
The envoy said Poland is not calling for a confrontation, but said previous Russian interference in countries including Georgia and Moldova show that Moscow’s behaviour is “not one event – it’s a pattern.”
U.S. President Barack Obama, who is also in Warsaw, promised Tuesday to beef up military support for eastern European members of the NATO alliance who fear they could be next after the Kremlin’s intervention in Ukraine. Mr. Obama unveiled plans to spend up to $1-billion (U.S.) in supporting and training the armed forces of NATO states on Russia’s borders.
The White House also said it would review permanent troop deployments in Europe in light of the Ukraine crisis – though this fell short of a firm commitment to put troops on the ground.
Mr. Bosacki said “it’s absolutely unacceptable that 15 years after NATO’s enlargement” to include Poland and other countries that there are so few Western troops stationed on the alliance’s eastern European front. He said Poland would welcome Canada’s participation in an eastward expansion of NATO bases.
NATO has stepped up training exercises in central and eastern European member states as a means of deterring Russian expansionism and reassuring allies that they are protected from any moves by Moscow. Canada sent paratroopers to train with Polish and American paratroopers in Poland. Six Canadian CF-18 jets are running air policing exercises out of Romania, and a Canadian frigate has joined the alliance’s European presence.
On Friday, former Second World War allies will later gather in Normandy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be among them, demonstrating by his presence that Moscow is not as isolated on the world stage as critics would like.
French President François Hollande has already agreed to meet with Mr. Putin ahead of the commemoration, as has Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron. Canada is refusing an offer to meet Mr. Putin.
The Canadian Prime Minister is also returning to Ukraine Saturday to show support for Kiev’s newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko, who is struggling to get his country back on a stable economic footing while battling pro-Russian separatists in the east and south. The Polish envoy said it’s also urgent to help Ukraine make democratic and economic reforms. “Help Ukraine. It cannot fail again. They actually failed with reforms and European strategy after Orange Revolution. They cannot fail now,” he said. Mr. Harper has emerged as the most vocal hawk on the Ukraine crisis among G7 leaders, and Canada slapped sanctions on more than 100 individuals and companies it deems responsible for efforts to destabilize the Eastern European country, including many players in Mr. Putin’s inner circle.