The United States and Poland signed a deal in Warsaw on Wednesday to place 10 interceptor missiles on Polish territory as part of a wide-ranging missile defense system. The deal has angered Moscow, which believes that the missile-defense system increases its vulnerability to nuclear attack. In retaliation, Russia has threatened to withdraw its participation in joint military activities with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
American and Polish officials say the agreement, combined with a similar one signed with the Czech Republic last month, will protect against the threat of attack by rogue states such as Iran. Domestic critics of the deal say it is unworkable or too expensive, but Russia has emerged as the missile system's fiercest opponent.
Moscow has reacted angrily to the deal amid fears that the missile shield could one day grow powerful enough to neutralize its own weapons, making it more vulnerable to a nuclear attack, reports the Los Angeles Times.
In response to the deal, Russia has threatened to target Poland with nuclear weapons. Speaking to Reuters in Warsaw, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced Russia's remarks about military action against Poland as "pathetic rhetoric," saying they "border on the bizarre."
The night before the deal was signed, the Norwegian Embassy in Moscow received a tip from a "a well-placed official in the Russian Ministry of Defense" who wishes to remain anonymous, adds the Associated Press. The official said that Russia would imminently announce plans to suspend military cooperation with the NATO alliance. Word of the tip spread fast, taking Western governments by surprise and evoking images of the cloak-and-dagger days of cold war intrigue.
Russia began military cooperation with NATO in 2002 and its activities have mostly focused on joint efforts to patrol the Mediterranean for terrorists, combat heroin trafficking, and develop battlefield antimissile technology.
US and NATO officials say they were unaware of Russia's plan to suspend military cooperation. Reuters reports that the Russian ambassador to NATO has played down the move, saying it is "of temporary character, of regional character, not global character."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood described the move as "unfortunate," saying, "We need to work with Russia on a range of security issues, but we are obviously very concerned about Russian behavior in Georgia," reports the Associated Press.