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STUTTGART, Germany — Poland will soon be hosting a group of U.S. F-16s and Hercules C-130s, which are expected to deploy to the country on a rotational basis beginning in 2013, according to a senior Polish government official.

Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich confirmed the new partnership and plans for joint drills with the U.S. during an interview last month with a radio station in Warsaw.

“Poland accepts the U.S. proposal of hosting rotating F-16 and Hercules aircraft and their crews,” Klich told TOK FM radio.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe officials wouldn’t comment Wednesday on any potential deployment.

Rotations of the fighter jets and cargo planes are the latest sign of a growing U.S. military presence in Poland, where earlier this year soldiers deployed as part of an effort to help the country bolster its air-defense systems.

However, the recent deals between the U.S. and Poland are more about appeasing Russia than solidifying relationships, one critic argues.

“This is nothing more than a gesture and actually really a sign of a diminishing relationship (between the U.S. and Poland),” said Jan Filip Stanilko, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Sobieski Institute, a political think tank. “Despite Polish allusions about the U.S. commitment, the realities are the U.S is consistently reluctant to (deploy) forces, which was expected on the Polish side.”

Earlier this year, about 100 troops from a U.S. Army Europe Patriot missile battalion deployed to Poland, where they work in rotations as part of the Obama administration’s new missile defense plan in Eastern Europe. Soldiers from the Kaiserslautern-based 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery work just 40 miles from the Russian border.

The emphasis on sending missile defense trainers and aircraft for joint exercises instead of permanently assigning troops is an attempt to keep an ally happy while not angering Russia, which has long been sensitive about a U.S. presence in the region, Stanilko said.

“The rotational aspect is a clear sign that the Russian point of view is taken very seriously by the U.S. administration,” Stanilko said. “The Russians see any permanent U.S. forces as a threat.”

Critics have said that the Patriot battery deployment represents something of a consolation prize to a U.S. and NATO ally that still harbors fears of its Russian neighbor. Poland was slated to play a much more significant role under the Bush administration’s larger missile defense plan, which called for placing 10 ground-based, long-range missile interceptors on a base in Poland, a move that infuriated Russia.

As part of an effort to “reset” relations with Russia, the Obama administration crafted a plan calling for sea-based interceptors in the Mediterranean.

But while U.S. officials have repeatedly said that missile-defense plans are aimed at Iran and not Russia, Polish leaders see things differently.

U.S. embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks, and published this week by various news organizations, show that Poland still views Russia as its main security threat. And Polish defense leaders are hoping for more from the U.S. than a lone Patriot battery.

For the Poles, an even stronger deterrent to Russian aggression would be a substantial U.S. military presence in the country, according to U.S. embassy cables published this week by The Guardian newspaper.

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil

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