Around 3,500 US troops have arrived in Poland, one of the largest deployments of US forces in Europe since the end of the Cold War in 1991, sparking immediate anger from Russia.
The contingent of US troops, which arrived in Poland from Germany on Thursday along with hundreds of military vehicles, is part of a larger NATO operation to “deter Russian aggression.”
The American troops will spend about a month training in Poland before moving to other NATO member states in Eastern Europe for additional training exercises.
The Pentagon operation, dubbed Atlantic Resolve mission, will involve an armored brigade and heavy equipment deployed in Poland and nearby NATO partners Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania on a rotational basis.
Outgoing US President Barack Obama ordered the deployment in 2014 to reassure NATO allies in Eastern Europe after Russia’s alleged intervention in Ukraine’s crisis.
But the mission comes a week ahead of the inauguration of incoming US President Donald Trump, who has called for closer ties with Russia, despite recent allegations of Moscow’s meddling in the US presidential election.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the NATO operation threatens Russia’s “interests and our security.”
“This is even more pronounced when a third party (the United States) reinforces its military presence on our doorstep in Europe,” he added.
Alexei Meshkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said the deployment is a “factor destabilizing European security.”
The US and its allies have been at odds with Moscow since Ukraine’s strategic Black Sea peninsula of Crimea rejoined Russia following a referendum in March 2014.
Since then, the European Union, the US and some other Western countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia.
NATO also cut ties with Moscow in 2014 and started to deploy troops and weaponry to Baltic States—Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia—near Russia.
Ties between the US and Russia further deteriorated when Moscow last year launched an air offensive against Daesh terrorists in Syria, many of whom were initially trained by the CIA to fight against the Syrian government.