US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed on Friday during a visit to Warsaw that his country was planning to sell 250 Abrams tanks to Poland.
The announcement comes as the US is temporarily deploying 4,700 additional soldiers to Poland, a fellow NATO member, as a Russian buildup of troops around Ukraine fans fears of a large-scale war in Eastern Europe. Poland is a key ally of Washington in the region and among the fiercest opponents of what it sees as Russia's revisionist ambitions there.
With the reinforcements, the US will more than double its troop presence in Poland.
What did the US defense secretary say?
Alongside the annoucement of the tank plans, Austin warned of the problems Poland could face should Russia attack Ukraine — something Moscow denies it intends to do.
"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," he told a news conference.
Austin also suggested that Moscow's declared intention to better Russia's security had backfired.
"What [Russian President Vladimir Putin] did not want was a stronger NATO on his flank, and that's exactly what he has today," he said.
He said Washington's military aid would "also strengthen our interoperability with the Polish armed forces, boasting the credibility of our combined deterrence efforts and those of our other NATO allies."
The defense secretary also for a second day rejected Russian claims that it was withdrawing troops from the areas near Ukraine.
"In fact, we see more forces moving into that region, that border region," he said. "All the indicators continue to indicate that he [Putin] will maintain the capability to launch an attack."
Fears of spillover conflict
Experts fear that US deployments like the one to Poland could place American and Russian troops in dangerous proximity to one another, even if President Joe Biden has ruled out sending US troops to Ukraine itself.
In addition to the planned extra troops and the tanks, the US military has already sent F-15 fighter jets to Poland to give the country additional capability for air policing. The country is also to be the site of a future US missile defense facility.
The Abrams battle tanks that Washington now plans to send can fire against personnel armored vehicles and even low-flying aircraft, according to manufacturer General Dynamics.
tj/wd (AFP, Reuters)