Just weeks ahead of taking over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission in Eastern Europe, Poland’s defense minister is worried about a possible “Putin doctrine” that aims to recreate the Soviet Union with a “New Russia.”
“That doctrine could give rise and has already gave [sic] rise to concern, especially in the part of the world that had been attached to the Soviet Union,” Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak told reporters in a joint briefing with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon.
After hours of meetings in Geneva on Tursday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a deal with between the United States, European Union, Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine. The agreement requires all sides to stop the violence, disarm all illegally armed groups and return control of buildings seized by pro-Russian militants.
But Siemoniak said Europe’s security “must not be taken for granted,” and allying with the United States and NATO is the only way to guarantee the security of nations like Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Romania.
“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin talked about the needs of the Russian minority in different countries, and there is a number of such countries in the region. President Putin also evaluated the different actions that took place after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So such doctrine gives rise to our concern,” he said.
Siemoniak’s remarks came shortly after Putin held a 4-hour televised news conference in which he referred to eastern Ukraine as “New Russia.” Asked about a compromise on Ukraine’s present status, Putin replied, “The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast. It’s New Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows.”
He also admitted, contrary to his previous statements and those from many Russian officials, that Russian troops were indeed in Crimea before the annexation in late March. “Of course we had our servicemen behind the self-defense units of Crimea,” Putin said.
Both Siemoniak and Hagel said the U.S.-Polish military partnership would strengthen in the coming weeks in response to the Ukraine crisis, with the possibility of greater cooperation in special operations and cyber defense. And Siemoniak said he is still interested in “the presence of the American troops in Poland,” including a installing a U.S. Army base there. “We want Poland to be as close to the West as possible,” he said.
Hagel said all options are on the table, but “no decisions have been made.”
“Russia’s aggression has renewed our resolve to strengthen the NATO alliance,” Hagel said, but added that any buildup of NATO assets is “not meant to provoke or threaten Russia.”
Siemoniak’s growing concern follows NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rassmussen’s announcement Wednesday of additional NATO deployments of land, sea and air assets to the Baltic and Mediterranean regions. Hagel said the recent U.S. additions of 12 F-16s and 200 personnel from Aviano Air Base in Italy will remain through the end of the year.
President Barack Obama, speaking from the White House briefing room, said, “I don’t think we can be sure of anything at this point” but there is chance “that diplomacy may de-escalate the situation.”
“We have to be prepared to potentially respond,” Obama said.
The Pentagon is also sending more non-lethal aid to Ukraine in the coming days. Those items include helmets and various supplies for use in the field, items like generators, sleeping mats and shelters for Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service.