Poland says Europe’s peaceful period ‘now over’
Poland’s defence minister spoke alongside NATO head Jens Stoltenberg in western Poland while attending the first full exercise of the Western defence alliance’s new rapid reaction force — part of NATO’s biggest defence reinforcement since the Cold War.
“After tens of years of peace, that peaceful period after the Cold War is now over,” Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak told reporters in Zagan.
“Because there are more and more crises erupting around Europe… It’s not only the Ukrainian and Russian crisis but also ISIS and a number of different crises in northern Africa,” he said, using an acronym to refer to the jihadist Islamic State group.
He added that Europe had to do more to defend itself, saying “I think it’s a task for all of us to persuade the public that they should be ready to do more before it’s too late.”
The comments come as Russia and the West are locked in their worst standoff since the collapse of the Soviet Union because of the conflict in Ukraine.
On Wednesday Stoltenberg said the alliance was “implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defences since the end of the Cold War”, after Russia announced that it would boost its nuclear arsenal this year.
Moscow was responding to reported US plans to deploy heavy weapons to its jittery NATO allies in eastern Europe, with Putin saying the US-led alliance is “coming to our borders”.
Stoltenberg said Thursday NATO would address the question of whether to store military equipment on eastern members’ soil next week at a NATO defence ministerial meeting in Brussels.
“I foresee decisions later on regarding the question of prepositioning of equipment in the eastern part of the alliance,” he said.
Siemoniak said that Poland is waiting on a decision from the US on the heavy weaponry, adding that he expected it to be made in the next few weeks and hoped it would be “positive”.
Around 2,100 soldiers from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the United States have been taking part in the NATO exercise since last week.
The drill is designed to test NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), established in the wake of the alliance’s September 2014 summit in Wales, which focussed on reinforcing the alliance’s eastern flank amid jitters over Russia.
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