The United States and Poland have announced an agreement to put US anti-missile interceptors in Poland to defend the US and Europe from "rogue" missile attacks. But Russia, having recently invaded Georgia, sees itself as the agreement's target.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the deal, reached Thursday, would allow the US to place 10 anti-missile interceptors in Poland, in exchange for upgrading Polish military defenses with a battery of Patriot missiles.
But in announcing the deal, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk noted that it included a "mutual commitment" between the US and Poland, which, the Times adds, appears "to be a reference to Russia, which has threatened to aim its nuclear-armed missiles at Poland – a former Soviet satellite – if it allows the U.S. site on its soil."
Russian officials were quick to express their displeasure with the missile deal. Russia's envoy to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Dmitry Rogozin, told Reuters that the timing of the agreement proves that Russia is its intended target.
Mr. Rogozin was not the only Russian voice to criticize the deal. The Associated Press writes that Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian general staff, warned that the deal "cannot go unpunished."
A Polskie Radio website, The News, reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled a trip to Warsaw meant to improve Polish-Russian relations while a Russian parliamentary official warned that Russia may now aim its rockets at Poland.
The BBC reports that US President George Bush was "very pleased" with the deal, but notes that a White House spokesperson denied that the agreement had anything to do with Russia. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski made similar comments to the BBC.
The Times of London suggests that the "new proposals" that cinched the deal were the US's agreement to deploy Patriot missiles, which will bolster Polish air defenses and "are supposed to reassure Poland in case the Russians start rattling their sabres."
At least one Russian official has said that the agreement's practical military impact is minor, however. RIA Novosti reports that Andrei Klimov, deputy head of the State Duma's international affairs committee, downplayed the strategic importance of the missile base as well as the timing of the agreement. "There might be a psychological element in it, but talks with Poland had been dragging on long enough beforehand," he said.
The agreement saw criticism not only in Russia, but in the West as well. The Huffington Post blogger Joe Cirincione wrote that the missile deal brings no security gains and is instead driven by proponents of an unproven technology.
Meanwhile, F. William Engdahl of the Center for Research on Globalisation, a Montreal-based think tank, argues that the US-Poland deal is "the most dangerous move towards nuclear war the world has seen since the 1962 Cuba Missile crisis."