18th Oct 2017

US and Poland ink missile deal, rattling Russia

The US and Poland have agreed to put part of a US global missile shield and new anti-aircraft defences on Polish soil, in a move further aggravating east-west relations amid the fallout from Russia's incursion into Georgia.

The deal - initialled in Warsaw on Thursday (14 August), but still subject to negotiation on "technical details" - will see 10 long-range Interceptor missiles installed on the Baltic Sea coast by 2012 to help defend the US and Europe against attacks from "rogue states."

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  • American Patriot missiles - part of the new deal (Photo: wikipedia)

The pact will also see one US-controlled unit of 96 short-range Patriot missiles accompanied by 110 US soldiers moved from Germany to Poland. And it contains a clause obliging US military support in the event of attack by a third party, governed by a process which is faster than the NATO solidarity clause.

"The Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later - it is no good when assistance comes to dead people," Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said on Polish TV. "Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of - knock on wood - any possible conflict."

The Polish foreign minister and White House spokesmen denied that the breakthrough, which comes after 18 months of talks, was connected to Russia's attack on Georgia last week. But the Polish defence minister, Bogdan Klich, and US officials made the link.

"Above all, it seems that the Americans changed their opinion as a result of the situation in the Caucasus," Mr Klich said in Polish daily Dziennik. The Georgia conflict "pushed the Poles, to be very frank," a US official told the Wall Street Journal. "It sends a signal to Moscow that people are not going to be intimidated."

Instant impact

The US missile deal had an instant impact on already fragile Polish-Russian relations, with Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, cancelling a scheduled trip to Warsaw in September as soon as media reported the initialling ceremony would take place.

Russia says the Polish missile base is designed to help neutralise its nuclear arsenal, instead of rockets from states such as Iran or North Korea.

"It is this kind of agreement, not the differences between the US and Russia over South Ossetia, which could lead to a real rise in the tension in Russian-American relations," the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, told Interfax.

The US-Russia deal "cannot go unpunished" Russian general, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said. "Poland, by deploying [the missiles] is exposing itself to a strike - 100 percent."

Earlier this month, the Russian ambassador to Belarus, Alexander Surikov, said Russia would station Iskander-M earth-to-earth missiles on the EU border in Belarus and in the Kaliningrad exclave to target the new US facility in Poland and a related site in the Czech Republic.

Baltic fears

Poland and the three ex-Soviet Baltic states are leading a front in the EU which wants to see diplomatic sanctions against Russia in punishment for its actions in Georgia, as well as fresh security guarantees for Georgia and Ukraine.

The Baltic states see parallels in the Georgia events to their own bloody attempts to gain independence in the 1990s, with Estonia on Thursday flying 50 military officers to Tbilisi for a symbolic defence of the Georgian parliament.

One third of Latvians are ethnic Russians, with Moscow in the past accusing Riga of violating the Russophone community's human rights. Several hundred pro-Russian supporters gathered outside the Russian embassy in Riga this week, while a pro-Russian party boycotted a parliamentary debate.

"The threats from Russia create unease. I take them very seriously," Lithuanian foreign minister, Petras Vaitiekunas, said on Thursday in reference to previous remarks by the Russian ambassador to Latvia, Alexander Veshnyakov.

"Serious mistakes can be made that have to be paid for, for a long time afterwards," the Russian diplomat had said, following a trip by the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine to Tbilisi hours after the ceasefire.

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