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U.S. troops to remain in Baltics, Poland next year

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[November 24, 2014]  VILNIUS (Reuters) - The United States will keep troops in Poland and the Baltic states for at least the next year as tensions with Russia remain, the commander of U.S. land forces in Europe said on Sunday.

Several hundred U.S. troops were deployed in Poland and the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia earlier this year after Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea region in March. The deployment was part of Washington's efforts to reassure the nervous eastern European allies that NATO would offer protection from any Russian threat.

Originally planned until the end of this year, the "persistent presence" mission of overlapping units on rotation is going to continue, Lieutenant-General Frederick Ben Hodges, Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe told reporters in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

"We have planned rotations out through next year. Units are designated that will continue to do this", Hodges said.

"There are going to be U.S. Army forces here in Lithuania, as well as Estonia and Latvia and Poland for as long as is required to deter Russian aggression and to assure our allies," he said.

All three Baltic states used to be part of the Soviet Union.

Permanent stationing of U.S. and other units in the Baltics and Poland remains off the table, in part due to concerns this would breach a 1997 Russia-NATO agreement.

(Reporting by Andrius Systas; Editing by Johan Ahlander and Stephen Powell)

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