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June 11, 2015

Jeb Bush says U.S. needs to expand military presence in central Europe

The United States needs to increase its military presence in central Europe, likely U.S. presidential candidate Jeb Bush said on Thursday on a visit to Poland, staking out a tough position on the need to contain Russia.

"I do know that we need to expand our presence here ... we ought to have a more significant presence in this region," former Florida governor Bush told reporters in the Polish capital.

"The numbers (of soldiers) are, I understand, in the hundreds, and that doesn't send a signal of strength. We need to be more robust, and need to encourage our allies to invest more in security."

Jeb Bush is expected to announce his bid for the U.S. Republican presidential nomination on June 15 in Miami, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother.

Bush is on a five-day trip to Germany, Poland and Estonia, one which is likely to boost his foreign policy credentials ahead of the possible announcement.

Asked why he picked the three countries, Bush said that the U.S. relationship with Europe was "hugely important".

"I think making it clear that we're in it for the long haul is important. Countries that we've picked are vital, I think, in many ways to making that statement."

"We could've gone to other countries as well, and make another statement, but I think this one is really important."

Bush was asked by a reporter how his tough stance on Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he has described as "a bully," squared with the warm relationship Putin initially enjoyed with his brother, former U.S. President George W. Bush.

The former Florida governor said that since then, Putin had changed.  

"He's been emboldened by the fact that - whether it's true or not - the perception is that we've pulled back. So people do change and this is an example of that," he said.

Poland and several of its neighbours in eastern Europe are worried that, after Russia's annexation of Crimea and what the West says is its support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, they could be the next target for Russia. Russia denies sending arms and troops to support the pro-Russian separatists.

Some governments have asked NATO to establish a permanent troops presence in former Warsaw Pact countries, but the alliance has stopped short, instead offering beefed up exercises and rotating forces in and out of the region.