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Inside the NATO decision to move forces into Eastern Europe

Yesterday, NATO approved the deployment of multinational battalions to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to deter Russia in light of the country’s actions in Ukraine. Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post joins Megan Thompson to talk about NATO’s shifting strategies toward Russia.

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  • MEGAN THOMPSON, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    In light of the sniper shooting that killed five Dallas police officers, President Obama is cutting short his European trip by one day to return to the U.S. tomorrow, and visit Dallas on Tuesday. At today's NATO Summit in Warsaw — his last as president — Obama addressed the tragedy and said the Dallas killer was, quote, "demented" and not representative of all Americans.

  • BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:

    We cannot let the actions of a few define all of us. The demented individual who carried out those attacks in Dallas, he is no more representative of African-Americans than the shooter in Charleston was representative of white Americans, or the shooter in Orlando or San Bernardino were representative of Muslim-Americans.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    At the summit, the U.S. and the 27 other NATO countries committed to station military forces in Afghanistan through 2020. The U.S. still has more than 8,000 troops there. NATO also agreed to boost military aid to countries in Africa and the Middle East fighting Islamic extremists, and to deploy surveillance aircraft to support forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

    Yesterday, NATO approved the deployment of multinational battalions to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to deter Russia, in light of Russia's actions in Ukraine.

    Joining me now via Skype from Warsaw is "Washington Post" Brussels bureau chief, Michael Birnbaum.

    Michael, Russia has been a huge topic at this summit. And today, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev accused NATO leaders of escalating tensions with Russia. Can you tell us, what's he talking about? What's the context?

    MICHAEL BIRNBAUM, "WASHINGTON POST" BRUSSELS BUREAU CHIEF: Well, the decision taken here in Warsaw over these past two days are really a sea change for NATO's relationship both with its own eastern — most members, the Baltic states and Poland, as you mentioned, and also with Russia, because they're planning to send a total of about 4,000 troops to these countries that would aim to deter any sort of Russian aggression.

    Now, that's after Russia in 2014 annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and helped foment conflict in Eastern Ukraine. But Russia has said that NATO's decisions right now are real security threat and they've said that they're very unhappy about it. They're planning to bolster their own military deployments to their west.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    How about Britain's decision to exit the E.U.? How has that affected the talks?

  • MICHAEL BIRNBAUM:

    Britain isn't pulling out of NATO. And what leaders are saying publicly is that Britain is more committed than ever. But in private, a lot of people I've been talking to here say they're worried that the British decision to split from the European Union is a bad sign, making it harder to spend money on security and defense, and also going to distract British policymakers over the next couple of years.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    NATO also announced a new effort in the Mediterranean to curb the flow of migrants. Can you just talk a little bit about what the plan is there?

  • MICHAEL BIRNBAUM:

    That's right. So, NATO is planning to send some naval vessels, NATO members are going to send them there to the Mediterranean where it's also considered a bit of a security threat for Europe because they have a stream of people coming in. So, NATO is going to try to defend Europe but also to make sure that those who are coming over often with smugglers aren't sinking and dying and drowning as we've seen happen again and again.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    The summit is being held in Poland. As I understand, it's calling attention to domestic policy issues in Poland. Can you tell us what's happening there?

  • MICHAEL BIRNBAUM:

    Poland has a new government since last October. Since they've come in, they've taken a number of steps that critics say challenge the rule of law here, changes to the constitutional court, the country's top court, changes to press institutions. President Obama yesterday meeting with the Polish president said that the United States was concerned about what's happening in Poland and that's been something that's been on the mind of a number of people here.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    All right. A lot of issues to pay attention to. Michael Birnbaum of "The Washington Post" — thank you so much for joining us.

  • MICHAEL BIRNBAUM:

    Thanks so much for having me.

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