Russia warns Poland on US missile base
Language is strongest yet against plan
MOSCOW - Russia warned Poland yesterday that it is exposing itself to attack - even a nuclear one - by accepting a US missile interceptor base on its soil, delivering Moscow's strongest language yet against the plan.
American and Polish officials stuck firmly by their deal, signed Thursday, for Poland to host a system that Washington says is meant to block missile attacks by rogue nations like Iran.
Moscow is convinced that the base is aimed at Russia's missile force, however, and the deal comes as relations already are strained over the fighting between Russia and US-allied Georgia over the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia.
"Poland, by deploying [the system], is exposing itself to a strike - 100 percent," General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of staff of Russia's armed forces, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
He noted that Russia's military doctrine sanctions the use of nuclear weapons "against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them."
Nogovitsyn said that would include elements of any strategic deterrence system, according to Interfax.
Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said Poland was willing to let Russia inspect the future missile base to give Moscow "tangible proof" that it is not directed against Russia's arsenal, the Polish news agency PAP reported.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the Polish missile deal "absolutely clearly demonstrates what we had said earlier - the deployment has the Russian Federation as its target."
However, speaking in Sochi, Russia, at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday, Medvedev appeared to take a softer position than Nogovitsyn's on the Polish base. "It is sad news for all who live on this densely populated continent, but it is not dramatic," he said.
Merkel suggested that Russia be included in the missile defense system.
"From my point of view, this deal is not directed against Russia," she said. "We will continue to advocate that talks be continued on how we can convince Russia of this and also . . . include it."
US officials defended the missile defense deal and said the timing was not meant to antagonize Russian leaders amid the conflict in Georgia.
"Poland is an independent country. And it's an ally of the United States. And it's a democratic country, to whose security the United States is committed" through NATO, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a visit to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi.
"Russia should welcome having democracies on its border, not threaten them," she said.
At a news conference earlier in the day, Nogovitsyn reiterated Russia's frequently stated warning that placing missile interceptors in Poland and a linked radar post in the Czech Republic would bring an unspecified military response. But the general's subsequent reported statement substantially stepped up the war of words.
Russian troops went deep into Georgia in the fighting, raising wide concerns that Russia could be seeking to occupy parts of a small, pro-US neighbor that has vigorously lobbied to join NATO, or perhaps force the Georgian government to collapse.
"I think the Russian behavior over the last several days is generally concerning not only to the United States but to all of our European allies," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said when asked about Russian threats against Poland.
He also suggested that earlier US offers for broad cooperation with Moscow on the missile defense program might be reevaluated considering the latest developments.
The missile deal, struck Thursday after more than 18 months of talks, must still be approved by Poland's parliament and signed by Rice during a future visit to Warsaw, possibly next week.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the United States agreed to help augment Poland's defenses with Patriot missiles in exchange for placing 10 missile defense interceptors in the eastern European country.
He said the deal also includes a "mutual commitment" between the two nations to come to each other's assistance "in case of trouble." That clause appeared to be a direct reference to Russia, whose resurgent muscle worries Polish leaders.
"Simply, the existence of this installation increases Poland's security," Polish President Lech Kaczynski said.
The United States and the Czech Republic have already signed a pact for that country to host a radar system as part of the shield. The Czech Republic's parliament has yet to approve the deal.
Washington has tried to reassure Moscow that the $3.5 billion missile shield system planned in the European countries would pose no threat to Russia, stating that missiles carry no warheads and would be no match for Russia's nuclear arsenal.
The system would use hit-to-kill technology in which an array of sensors and radar would detect an enemy missile in flight and a ground-based interceptor would destroy it. The interceptors would ram incoming warheads at a closing speed of 15,000 miles per hour.