New Polish President Andrzej Duda will visit Estonia next week to start a push for NATO to deploy more forces in the region, a senior aide said on Monday, reflecting increasing fear of Russia after its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
Spooked by the move of their former Soviet master, Poland and the Baltic states have repeatedly asked NATO to station forces permanently in their territories along the alliance's eastern flank in Russia's vicinity.
But Germany and other western members of NATO, concerned not risk a sharp Russian response, have rebuffed the appeals and opted instead to intensify joint exercises and rotate alliance troops through the region.
Moscow, whose relations with the West have deteriorated to a post-Cold War low over its role in Ukraine's separatist conflict, has said it would see any significant deployment of NATO forces close to its borders as an aggressive act.
Krzysztof Szczerski, the Polish presidential minister in charge of foreign affairs, on Monday confirmed a Reuters report that Duda would visit Estonia next week. He will subsequently travel to Berlin, London and New York as part of an eight-nation swing over the coming 100 days, Szczerski said.
Duda's first foreign trip since he was sworn in on August 6 would be a show of solidarity with the Baltic states, a senior presidential source said. The president wants to nudge NATO members to approve a troop deployment at a summit next year.
Eye-to-eye encounters with Russian combat jets and reports of suspected submarines in Swedish and Finnish waters are fuelling regional concerns about Russian intentions in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
Duda wants Poland to build a unified front in the region and the August 23 visit to Estonia marks the beginning of this process, the presidential source said.
His trip to the Estonian capital Tallinn will come on the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, a 1939 non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
The pact's secret protocol divided the territories of Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, putting paid to the pact.
Duda is to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and President Joachim Gauck in Berlin on August 28. Next month he will visit London and then New York where he hopes to meet President Barack Obama, Szczerski told reporters.
In November Duda is to co-host, together with Romania's president, a NATO pre-summit meeting in Bucharest.