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Why US-Poland missile deal rouses Russian bear

US officials say the system is merely a protection against rogue states like Iran.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 19, 2008


Russia's strident objections to the deal between the United States and Poland on a missile defense system are largely unfounded.

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That's the view of American officials and analysts, who say Moscow's aim in the controversy is to divide NATO and drive a wedge between the US and its allies.

Moscow reacted angrily over the weekend to the agreement between the US and Poland to put a missile defense system comprised of 10 interceptors in Poland. American officials have long maintained that the system will protect Israel and US bases in the Middle East against a rogue nuclear missile strike from the likes of Iran, and does not pose a threat to Russian security. Russia sees the site as a threat and fears greater intrusion into its traditional sphere of influence.

But analysts in Washington widely believe Russia is using controversy over the agreement within Europe and NATO to further divide the US and its allies.

"I think that the Russian argument is a disingenuous one, and everyone knows it," says Chris Hellman, a policy fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a policy group in Washington. "It really isn't targeted at those guys."

Yet the agreement also reflects the growing fear in countries such as Poland, Ukraine, and Estonia that they could be attacked by Russia as it attempts to reemerge as a international power.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported this week that Russia is sending launchers for short-range ballistic missiles into South Ossetia that are capable of targeting the Georgian capital of Tblisi. The move hints that Russia isn't planning to remove its troops from Georgia any time soon under the truce agreements announced over the weekend.

Some European allies have not supported the missile shield agreement, for fear it could amp up nuclear proliferation and cause nuclear ripples across the globe, where other countries such as India, China, or even Pakistan must reassess their own nuclear capabilities.