WARSAW Nearly 600 U.S. soldiers accompanied by tanks and other vehicles will arrive in Poland and the Baltic states at the weekend for military exercises, the Polish defence ministry said on Friday.
The U.S. soldiers will replace a more lightly armed force of paratroopers and will take part in rotational exercises meant to show the United States' commitment to NATO's eastern allies, it said in a statement.
The ministry said the aim of the exercises, part of NATO's Operation Atlantic Resolve, was to "guarantee the security of European allies in the face of the latest aggression of Russia in Ukraine."
"The Americans are training for the deployment of forces and for cooperation with allies," Artur Golawski, a spokesman for Poland's armed forces, told Reuters.
Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia emerged from Soviet domination in the early 1990s and since then have become members of NATO and the European Union.
The three Baltic states were annexed by the Soviet Union in the 1940s, while Soviet troops stationed in Poland until the early 1990s ensured the country remained under de facto Soviet control.
He said that from the total of nearly 600 soldiers, about 200 will arrive in Poland and will be accompanied by 12 Abrams tanks, eight M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles as well as dozens of support vehicles.
"The presence of military units...is an expression of the strength of U.S.-Polish bilateral relations and of the commitment following from Art. 5 (of the NATO treaty) on collective defence," the Polish ministry said.
Poland has been one of the strongest critics of Russia's actions during the Ukraine crisis among members of the European Union.
(Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Hugh Lawson)