MOSCOW – Russia's defence ministry on Thursday accused the US of adding troops in Poland in violation of an agreement between Moscow and NATO, a charge the military alliance denied.
A set of US troops were sent to replace another group of soldiers in Poland but the original squadron never left, Moscow said in a statement which accused the Eastern European nations of "hysteria". The accusations came as tensions between Russia and NATO have soared to their highest since the Cold War.
The US Third Squadron and Second Squadron were due to rotate as joint Russian-Belarusian war games named Zapad 2017 (West 2017) were taking place last month, defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
"The Second Squadron arrived in Poland quietly with its military equipment. And, during this time, the military equipment of the Third Squadron did not leave Poland and the Baltics," he said in the statement.
The presence of both squadrons violated the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, Konashenkov added. He said the Zapad military exercises were "accompanied by unprecedented hysteria in European media", singling out newer eastern EU members for accusations of "Russophobia".
"This whole Baltic and Polish hysteria about a 'Russian threat' posed by Zapad 2017 is a fraudulently played information smokescreen part of the Pentagon's operation... So who is, in fact, preparing for aggression?" Konashenkov asked.
NATO's deputy spokesman Piers Cazalet dismissed the accusations, saying that "NATO fully abides by the NATO-Russia Founding Act." "Any accusation that NATO is violating the act or breaking its promises, is untrue," Cazalet said in a statement.
He said NATO's deployment of 4,000 troops to Eastern Europe following Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and "additional bilateral deployments by the United States are well below any reasonable definition of 'substantial combat forces' mentioned in the NATO-Russia Founding Act."
The alliance's actions are "defensive, proportionate and fully in line with international commitments," he added.
The US embassy in Poland said that the Third Squadron had replaced the Second, and that there had been no violation of the agreement. The embassy said the presence of American troops was rotational, with the soldiers replacing each other every nine months.
Polish media reported that a departure ceremony for the American soldiers took place on September 29 in Zagan, the southwestern Polish town where they were stationed.
After Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the US created a European Reassurance Initiative that increased the number of American troops in Europe.