WARSAW, Poland — As Russia continues to bolster its military capacities along its western borders, neighboring NATO member states such as Poland are responding to the rising security concerns by adapting and expanding their capabilities. Warsaw is intensifying efforts to strengthen the Polish military’s air defense capacities, secure a permanent presence of U.S. troops on the country’s soil and establish a new division of the operational forces in Poland’s east.
Moscow claims its military buildup comes in response to Western actions. Speaking at a meeting of Russian Defence Ministry leadership on July 24, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that “the situation that develops in the western strategic direction requires us to continuously develop the combat capacities of our forces,” as quoted in a ministry statement.
Shoigu said that since 2016, more than 70 formations and military units, including two divisions and three brigades, were set up in Russia’s Western Military District. Established in 2010, the structure covers 26 entities of the Russian Federation, bordering Norway, Finland, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The minister said that Russian troops in the district have received some 5,000 units of new and overhauled weapons and equipment over the past years, raising the ratio of deployed new gear from 39 to 54 percent. By the end of this year, more than 350 new facilities are to be put into operation in the Western Military District.
New division in eastern Poland
Moscow’s defense efforts are shaping Poland’s plans to overhaul the structure of its operational forces.
On Aug. 15, on the occasion of Poland’s Armed Forces Day, Lt. Gen. Rajmund Andrzejczak, the chief of the military’s General Staff, announced plans to set up a fourth division of the operational forces, which is to be located east of the Vistula River, which crosses Poland’s capital Warsaw.
"There is no doubt that a fourth division is necessary, we are already carrying out analytical work, and soon we will be able to present specific plans," Andrzejczak said, as reported by local news agency PAP.
Poland’s land forces currently comprise three divisions, with headquarters in Zagan, Szczecin and Elblag. The former two divisions comprise units located in western and northwestern Poland, reminiscence of the times when Poland was part of the Soviet Union-led Warsaw Pact. Creating a fourth division to shift the military’s operational capacities toward the eastern flank will likely represent one of the major challenges in the coming years for Andrzejczak, who was appointed to his post in July.
A considerable share of the military buildup takes place on Poland’s border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, a 15,100-square-kilometer (approximately 5,800-square-mile) territory on the Baltic Sea’s shore. As the Russian military has deployed Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad, locking Poland’s capital within the missile’s strike range, the Polish authorities have responded with intensified efforts to acquire air defense capacities.
On March 28, Poland inked a letter of offer and acceptance with the U.S. to purchase Raytheon’s medium-range Patriot system. The country’s military is to acquire two Patriot Configuration 3+ batteries, with delivery scheduled for 2022.
The Polish government has also offered the U.S. financial support for the deployment of a permanent U.S. armored division in Poland. The document suggests support in the range of $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
“It is important to share the burden of defense spending, make the decision more cost-effective for the U.S. Government, and allay any concerns for Congress in uncertain budgetary times," the document stated.
In an Aug. 7 interview with local broadcaster Polish Radio, Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said Warsaw is determined to strike a deal that would secure the permanent presence of U.S. troops in Poland.
“This is a very promising direction. I’m in contact with our American partners. My two visits to Washington, the talks held both at Pentagon and the White House with [then-national security adviser] Gen. [H.R.] McMaster and [then-]Ambassador [to the United Nations John] Bolton, were devoted to these issues,” Blaszczak said.