WARSAW Britain will permanently station 1,000 military personnel in Poland from next year, Poland's defence minister said late on Thursday, in apparent contradiction of an announcement by Britain about plans for temporary exercises on Polish soil.
On Wednesday, the British Ministry of Defence said London would send nearly 1,000 military personnel to take part in NATO exercises in Poland.
But Poland's Antoni Macierewicz told Catholic broadcaster Radio Maryja that Poland and Britain had agreed at a meeting of foreign and defence ministers in Scotland that troops would stay in Poland permanently.
"One of the decisions, which resulted from yesterday's talks (is) a permanent presence of the British forces on Polish territory, that is 1,000 soldiers, who will permanently station on Polish territory from next year," Macierewicz said.
"They will switch around, it will be a rotational, but permanent presence of 1,000 soldiers."
The Ministry of Defence in London declined to comment on Friday.
Warsaw, which is due to host a NATO summit in July, has repeatedly pressed for more NATO forces on its soil and elsewhere in former communist-ruled Europe, arguing it needed a stronger response to Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.
But some of its NATO allies are reluctant to permanently station troops in the region, wary of violating a 1997 NATO-Russia agreement on the size of forces the alliance can have in former Warsaw Pact countries.
Moscow has previously signalled it would regard the establishment of a standing NATO presence on its borders as a hostile act.
Some Western governments are also concerned about the cost of permanent new bases at a time when defence budgets are strained by fiscal austerity or costly engagements elsewhere.
Macierewicz said, however, that having British troops in Poland meant that a permanent NATO presence in Poland was "realistic".
"Not so long ago we were told that it will be impossible to get permanent bases, NATO presence ... that it's an unrealistic demand," he said.
"Well, it turns out it's realistic."
Macierewicz's spokesman was not immediately available to comment about the apparent contradiction with the British announcement.
Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said earlier this month Poland could be open to compromise over British demands to limit the rights of EU migrants if London helped it bolster the NATO presence in central Europe.
In a statement issued on Wednesday after a meeting between Macierewicz and his British counterpart Michael Fallon in Edinburgh, the Ministry of Defence said Britain would send around 800 military personnel to NATO's Exercise Anakonda.
The statement said that for Exercise Swift Response, Britain would commit 150 personnel to "elements of a Brigade HQ, Battlegroup HQ and a Company".
Britain will also commit around 1,000 personnel to the Polish-led Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in 2020, the statement said. The force has no permanent base.
The frigate HMS Iron Duke will visit Poland as part of NATO's Standing Naval Maritime Group this summer, the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean will participate in Exercise BALTOPS in the Baltic Sea over the summer, and a Royal Navy minehunter is due to visit Poland in the autumn, the statement also said.
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(Reporting by Wiktor Szary and Pawel Florkiewicz; Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon in London; Editing by Andrew Roche)