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Young NATO states mark anniversary of alliance membership

April 5, 2019
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In this photo taken March 10, 2019, in Wesola,near Warsaw, central Poland, are seen NATO tanks during brief exercise with some other NATO forces marking 20 years since Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined the Western military alliance. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
1 of 4
In this photo taken March 10, 2019, in Wesola,near Warsaw, central Poland, are seen NATO tanks during brief exercise with some other NATO forces marking 20 years since Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined the Western military alliance. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Defense ministers from Central and Eastern Europe celebrated Friday the anniversaries of their countries’ membership of NATO, but fully mindful of Russia’s heightened military activity over recent years.

The nine ministers are meeting in Poland, the largest of the post-communist countries in the region, to mark their time in the military alliance, which is based in Brussels.

Their membership sealed their pivot away from Russia and cemented their new links with the West.

Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined in 1999, while Slovakia, Slovenia, the three Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2004.

The two-day meeting that ends Friday is focusing on improving the alliance’s combat readiness in the region.

Their membership shifted the center of Europe’s security and NATO’s military presence eastwards, and toward Russia — to the increasing annoyance of Moscow.

Mindful of their past experience and Russia’s actions in neighboring Ukraine, the new members have prevailed on the alliance, and especially on the U.S., to station troops in their region.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said this week the alliance is investing more than $260 million in a new facility for storing heavy equipment in Poland should it be needed.

Washington is to reveal soon its response to Poland’s request for a permanent and larger U.S. troop presence in the country from the current 4,000.

“Russia is the main threat for the (NATO) member states,” Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told reporters during ceremonies of NATO’s 70th anniversary in Washington Thursday.

“The U.S. presence in Europe is of key importance for the deterrence of potential aggressors.”

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