Polish leaders celebrated the arrival of U.S. troops Saturday as part of a NATO deployment that has drawn criticism from Russia.
“We have waited for you for a very long time,” Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said during a ceremony in the western Polish town of Zagan, the Associated Press reported.
Some 3,000 American troops are being deployed in Poland and six other countries under NATO’s “Operation Atlantic Resolve,” which was launched after Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014.
The Polish arrival ceremony comes more than two decades after the last Soviet troops left the country and just ahead of the swearing in of President-elect Donald Trump, who critics fear will embolden Russia.
“We waited for decades, sometimes feeling we had been left alone, sometimes almost losing hope, sometimes feeling that we were the only one who protected civilization from aggression that came from the east,” Macierewicz said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggested Thursday that the foreign military buildup near its borders was inappropriate and that any other country would feel the same way. The operation marks the first time Western forces are being deployed on a continuous basis to NATO’s eastern border.
“We interpret this as a threat to us and as actions that endanger our interests and our security,” Peskov said, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for insurgents in eastern Ukraine put on edge many countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states that were once under Soviet control.
The U.S. deployment includes an armored brigade of 3,500 American troops from Fort Carson, Colo., more than 80 main battle tanks and hundreds of armored vehicles.
The Polish government organized several events across the country to welcome the Americans, including in downtown Warsaw.
“This is an important day for Poland, for Europe, for our common defense,” Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said, the AP reported.
Contributing: Associated Press
SOURCE: Donovan Slack