In Warsaw, protesters hold placards during a rally. "Warsaw in solidarity with Ukraine." Feb. 17, 2022

In Warsaw, protesters hold placards during a rally. "Warsaw in solidarity with Ukraine." Feb. 17, 2022 Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Poland to Buy $6 Billion in US Tanks, Assault Bridges, Explosives; Russian Advancing Force Grows to 190,000

In Warsaw, Austin warns ‘thousands’ of Ukrainians could flee into Poland, ‘trying to save themselves and their families from the scourge of war.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Friday that the U.S. will sell 250 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Poland to further build up defense capabilities along NATO’s eastern flank with Russia as U.S. officials continue to warn that an attack against Ukraine is imminent. 

Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces have exchanged intensified shelling over the last two days in Eastern Ukraine, which U.S. and NATO officials have said could be used as a pretext for a larger Russian attack. 

Austin announced the $6 billion contract during a stop in Warsaw to meet with Polish Minister of National Defense Mariusz Blaszczak. Beyond the tanks, the contract includes the sale of 250 counter-IED systems, 26 M88 combat recovery vehicles, 17 joint assault bridges, 276 M2 .50-caliber machine guns, and thousands of rounds of explosive tracers. 

“This is the most modern version of the Abrams and will provide Poland with a highly advanced tank capability that will also strengthen our interoperability with the Polish armed forces, boosting the credibility of our combined deterrence efforts in those of other NATO allies,” Austin said. 

The announcement comes as Mike Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that Russia’s troops along the Ukrainian border  had rapidly swelled to as many as 190,000 forces

“This estimate includes military troops along the border, in Belarus, and in occupied Crimea; Russian National Guard and other internal security units deployed to these areas; and Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine,” the OSCE said Friday in a statement.  “This is the most significant military mobilization in Europe since the Second World War.”

Blaszczak said the Abrams sale is part of Poland’s newly expanded homeland defense spending that will finance the modernization of Polish armed forces. In October, Poland announced it would double its number of active duty forces to roughly 200,000 and increase its defense budget from 2.2 percent to 2.5 percent of its GDP.  

Russian troops assembled along Ukraine’s border have not advanced on Kyiv. 

If Russia further invades Ukraine, “Poland could see tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainians and others flowing across its border trying to save themselves and their families from the scourge of war,” Austin said. 

U.S. military airlift could be used to assist refugees who flee to Poland or other locations if requested, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown told Defense One on Thursday. 

“It’s our responsibility as a service to be prepared to provide airpower at the request of the combatant commands and at the direction of the President,” Brown said in a later statement to Defense One. “We plan for any number of contingencies, and this is no different, but the President has been clear, should Russia invade Ukraine – there are no plans to conduct a mass evacuation.” 

Blaszczak said Poland will take in refugees fleeing Ukraine. 

“We are ready. We are ready to help all those who will be forced to leave Ukraine,” he said. “We, as a nation that has so strongly and badly experienced  World War II,we know what support is all about.”