Defence minister Tomasz Siemoniak echoed President Andrzej Duda’s calls for a consolidated NATO presence in Poland as the pair oversaw the change of command of NATO’s Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, north-western Poland.
However, speaking with journalists after Thursday’s ceremony, Siemoniak, who is also deputy prime minister representing the Civic Platform (PO) senior coalition partner, stressed that he did not agree that NATO treats Poland like a “buffer zone,” referring to an interview given by the newly installed president with the Financial Times.
“When it comes to increasing the military presence of NATO and the United States on Polish territory, our opinions are consistent with those of President Andrzej Duda,” Siemoniak told reporters.
“In this matter, not only the president and the government, but the majority of Polish citizens would like greater security guarantees from NATO,” he added, stressing that the current coalition government has been striving for such an outcome for some time.
In 1997, NATO signed an agreement with Russia that confirmed that no permanent NATO bases would be created on the territory of new member states (Poland joined NATO in 1999).
“The point – and this is how I understand the president’s way of thinking to be – is not to be bound by those restrictions that were the subject of the NATO-Russia act in 1997, but to develop the allied presence here.”
“The Americans are doing this, and NATO is doing this,” he said in reference to the increased level of military exercises carried out in Poland in recent months.
He also said that the scheduled 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw “strongly confrms that the NATO presence here will grow.”
At present, NATO only has a small base in Szczecin, where Thursday’s ceremony took place, with revolving command of NATO’s Multinational Corps Northeast switching from Poland’s General Bogusław Samol to Germany’s General Manfred Hofmann.
Among other plans, Warsaw wants the Szczecin base to be doubled in size, a move opposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who feels the action would provoke Russia.
Last month, a US State Department official ruled out the possibility of a decision being taken at Warsaw’s July 2016 NATO summit about a prospective permanent alliance base in Poland. (nh/rk)
Picture: President of Poland Andrzej Duda (R) is welcomed by outgoing commander of the Multinational Corps Northeast (MNCNE) General Boguslaw Samol (L) with Polish Defence minister Tomasz Siemoniak (C) looking on as he arrives for the ceremony of Change of Command in Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland. Photo: EPA/MARCIN BIELECKI