‘What Mr. Putin did not want’: U.S. approves $6B tank deal with Poland
Paul McLeary – February 18, 2022
The State Department on Friday approved a long-awaited $6 billion deal to sell Poland 250 Abrams tanks, an announcement that comes as more U.S. troops and aircraft flood into the country in the face of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the deal early Friday while in a Warsaw press conference alongside his Polish counterpart Mariusz Blaszczak.
“What Mr. Putin did not want was a stronger NATO on his flank, and that’s exactly what he has today,” Austin said.
The eventual delivery “will also strengthen our interoperability with the Polish armed forces, boosting the credibility of our combined deterrence efforts and those of our other NATO Allies.”
The package is another piece in Poland’s sweeping military modernization effort, coming on top of a $6.5 billion deal Poland forged in 2019 to buy 32 F-35 fighter planes, and other agreements to buy mobile rocket artillery systems from the United States.
In Vienna, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Michael Carpenter, upped Washington’s assessment of the force Russia has built up along Ukraine’s border, saying between 169,000 and 190,000 troops “are in and near Ukraine as compared with about 100,000 on January 30.”
The Biden administration has deployed about 5,000 more troops to Poland over the past two weeks, bolstering the 4,000 troops already there, while dispatching two Stryker brigades based in Germany to Romania and Bulgaria.
A U.S. military official told POLITICO that the American role in Poland is “pretty limited” and focused on training with the Polish military and assisting and processing any American citizens who might flee any fighting in Ukraine.
“I think there are a lot of unknowns about what’s really going to happen,” the official, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss a sensitive issue, adding that any large flood of Ukrainians fleeing the fighting would be up to the Polish government and European Union to handle, and “we would have to be asked to do that.”
Austin addressed the issue in Warsaw on Friday, saying “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.”
This week has seen a flurry of new activity as NATO and its allies seek to forestall a fresh Russian push into Ukraine. Vice President Kamala Harris met with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and Eastern European heads of state at the Munich Security Conference early Friday. In the afternoon, President Joe Biden will host a call about the Ukraine crisis with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Britain, the EU and NATO.
While the deal for the Abrams tanks has been approved, the Polish government still has to negotiate a final contract with General Dynamics and other U.S. defense companies that build the tanks and its components. That means it will be months, if not years, before the first tanks arrive in Poland.
The timing of the deal can be seen as a piece of a larger U.S. push in Eastern Europe.
This week saw a buildup in American airpower in the region, as eight additional F-15s from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., arrived at the Lask Air Base in Poland, doubling the number of American F-15s which arrived there this month. Six more F-16s arrived in Estonia this month to help police the Baltic Sea.
This week, an additional eight F-16s based in Germany moved to an air base in Romania, and Utah-based F-35s moved to Germany.