Polish minister: US must show Russia it will protect Europe

Poland’s deputy foreign minister says the United States must demonstrate its commitment to protecting Europe in the face of Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine.

In an op-ed published in The Hill on Saturday, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Boguslaw Winid warned that Russian aggression would have significant consequences for Europe if it were not met with a strong and unified response.

“The U.S. has to show that European security still matters to Washington and is worth a decent effort,” Winid wrote.

“This aggression, if not stopped immediately, will have long-term consequences for security in Europe and beyond,” he added. “Once again, Europe and America must act together to defend our values and the principles on which our democracies are based.”

As Russia took control of Crimea this past week, Poland requested an emergency NATO meeting under council rules that allow any member to call for consultations if its security is threatened.

The meeting highlighted the concerns that Russia’s military action has sparked among NATO’s members in Eastern Europe.

The U.S. has taken steps this week to provide assurances to Poland and others, sending six additional F-15 fighter jets to Poland to bolster a NATO air-policing mission.

Winid wrote that that the additional fighters was a good first step, and that the U.S. stance should be made clear as preparations are made for the NATO summit later this year.

The deputy foreign minister expressed concern that defense budgets throughout NATO countries could be cut further, limiting the potential for a response.

He said that the defense spending for all of NATO’s European countries amounts to only 34 percent of the Pentagon’s budget.

“Only a handful of them achieve the 2% GDP benchmark agreed by the Alliance,” he said. “We have to do more, also to redress burden sharing.”

The U.S. military budget is also facing budget pressures and has been trimmed due to sequestration in recent years.

The Pentagon has emphasized a rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, which has also signaled a declining need for a robust U.S. presence in Europe. Pentagon officials have said they’d let their European allies take greater responsibility for their own security as the military’s budgets are squeezed.

The budget cutting has already prompted the U.S. to remove Army brigades from Europe, a consolidation that could continue further as the Army plans to downsize to 440,000 to 450,000 troops by 2019.

U.S. defense officials have warned that the troop figure could drop even lower if sequestration is not undone by 2016.

Winid also pushed the U.S. to lift barriers on natural gas exports to diversify Europe’s energy market, arguing the move would “do both sides of the Atlantic a favor.”

Russia is a major exporter of natural gas to Europe, which has caused some governments there to resist the push for harsh sanctions against Moscow.