Poland announced on Tuesday it will shift its military strength to its eastern borders with Belarus, Russia and Ukraine as a part a three-year modernization plan that will also see defense spending rise to 2 percent of economic output.
The shift from Cold War military planning comes in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It seized the country’s Crimean Peninsula in March and has since supported a separatist uprising in the southeast of its former satellite state.
Explaining the plans, Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, said, “The geopolitical situation has changed. We have the biggest crisis of security since the Cold War and we must draw conclusions from that.” While he said he did not foresee a threat to Poland in the near future, “It is a need to draw conclusions for the decades to come.”
Much of Poland’s army — with 120,000 troops, the eighth largest in NATO — is still concentrated on the western border with Germany where it was stationed during the Cold War when Poland was a member of Russia’s Warsaw Pact.
Siemoniak told the Associated Press news agency that three of the country’s military bases in the east, which are currently used at 30 percent capacity, should be almost fully operational by the end of 2017.
The moves would involve the relocation of thousands of troops although Siemoniak wouldn’t specify an overall figure.
Poland’s announcement comes mere days after Sweden called off the hunt for a suspected Russian submarine in its territorial waters and at a time when the three former Soviet republics in the Baltic, now members of NATO as well, are deeply concerned about Russia’s ambitions.
When the crisis in Ukraine started, Poland asked its NATO allies to establish a permanent military presence on its soil to act as a deterrent to Russia. The alliance stopped short of meeting that demand, wary of antagonizing Russia further, but did intensify deployments and training exercises in Poland and the Baltic states.
Poland shares a border with Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, home to its Baltic Fleet.