KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
An armored brigade from Colorado has arrived in Poland. It's part of the biggest U.S. military deployment in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The Obama administration says the soldiers and their tanks are a deterrent against Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. The Kremlin calls the American deployment a threat to Russian security. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from western Poland.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Andrezej Kozlik seems oblivious to the cold as he waits at this sleepy Polish border crossing. The retired metal worker is here to welcome a U.S. military convoy that's arriving from a port in Germany.
ANDREZEJ KOZLIK: (Speaking Polish).
NELSON: He says he's happy the Americans will be based here to help deter aggression, although like many Poles, he's reluctant to say who the soldiers will protect his country from. A former tank man during his years in what was then Communist Poland's army, Kozlik says he hopes to see an American tank up close.
But the only vehicles that show up today are Humvees and armored trucks. Officials say the 87 tanks in the brigade will be arriving in the coming weeks on trains and other heavy transport.
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NELSON: In the nearby town of Zagan, officials and residents holding small American flags celebrate at what will be a continuous rotational presence of U.S. and NATO armored brigades in Eastern Europe. The ramp-up is partly an attempt by President Obama to calm the nerves of NATO's newer members after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Polish Major General Jaroslaw Mika, whose soldiers will be training with the Americans, tells me he's thrilled they are here.
JAROSLAW MIKA: Let me say it's very important to be together, to build our common relationship and to provide more security not only for Europe, for Poland, for all of the world countries.
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NELSON: U.S. Colonel Christopher Norrie, who was feted by Polish trumpets, called the joint mission a cornerstone to preserving freedom across Europe.
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COLONEL CHRISTOPHER NORRIE: To arrive at this point so swiftly is proof that when we work as a team, no challenge is too large to overcome. No distance is too far to cross when the need arises.
NELSON: RAND senior political scientist Mike Mazarr says it remains to be seen whether President-elect Donald Trump, who is critical of NATO, will order the U.S. troops home.
MIKE MAZARR: Where there is an opportunity to sort of leave that where it's at and go to Russia and say, look; we've had a lot of misunderstandings lately. We recognize that some of what the United States and NATO have done may be perceived by you as provocative. Let's find a way to work this out that might lead to some kind of an agreement where in a year, we're pulling some of those troops back, but we're doing it in concert with Russian withdrawals.
NELSON: It's not just the Russians who are opposed to this deployment. Frauke Petry, a leader of the populous Alternative for Germany party, argues the arrival of the American troops needlessly antagonizes Vladimir Putin.
FRAUKE PETRY: NATO sort of surrounding Russia is not going to help. It's going to deepen the conflict. But I'm hopeful that Trump and Putin are going to end the situation.
NELSON: For now, the U.S. armored brigade will be sending units to the Baltic states - Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary - to train with local troops there. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News in Zagan, Poland.
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