Warsaw — US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin warned while in Poland on Friday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could trigger an exodus of people fleeing toward the European Union.
“If Russia further invades Ukraine, Poland could see tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainians and others flowing across its border trying to save themselves and their families from the scourge of war,” he said alongside his Polish counterpart Mariusz Blaszczak in Warsaw.
Blaszczak said Poland was ready to help those forced to leave Ukraine in the event of a Russian attack. Last week, Poland’s interior minister said his country was preparing emergency shelters.
The US recently moved 4,700 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division from North Carolina to Poland to bolster the 4,500 US forces already stationed in the country.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the 82nd troops have shifted roles.
According to officials, troops that were in place to “deter and assure” are now assigned to help with traffic at the border of Poland and Ukraine and to assist refugees fleeing the conflict.
Military sources told ABC News they expect traffic to increase at checkpoints, including citizens of NATO, because the Ukrainian airspace is shut down–European authorities declared it an “active conflict zone” Thursday evening.
Austin was also due to meet President Andrzej Duda while in Warsaw.
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