Russian President Vladimir Putin's destabilization of Ukraine has reminded the Polish people that they can only ward off Russian aggression by strengthening their ties to NATO and their own military, Poland's defense minister said at the Pentagon Thursday.
"The events of the recent months and the aggressive policy taken by Russia made Poles realize that things must not be taken for granted," Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak replied when asked if his country fears a Russian invasion. "So, our response to the current situation is that we want to watch our interests and we are making a significant effort to modernize our armed forces. We really care for the alliances and we want Poland to be as close to the West as possible, cooperating with NATO and with the United States, and there is no other way for us to guarantee our own security."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emphasized that the United States would defend Poland in the event of a Russian assault. Article 5 of NATO's charter imposes a responsibility on all members for collective self-defense.
"Article 5 is clear that an act of aggression against one member of NATO is an attack on all members," Hagel told reporters during the joint press briefing.
Poland was one of several NATO countries which sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq when the U.S. invoked Article 5 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for the first time in the alliance's history.