Poland is a target, says Russian general

 

POLAND:POLAND HAS "100 per cent" made itself a potential target for a Russian attack after agreeing to host part of a US anti-missile system, according to a leading Russian general.

Under the preliminary agreement signed on Thursday night, the US will install 10 interceptor missiles at a base in northern Poland linked to a radar station in the Czech Republic, to be used to intercept missiles fired at the US and Europe.

The Kremlin yesterday attacked the system that is scheduled to go online in 2011 and this is likely to overshadow Polish-Russian relations for many more years to come.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has cancelled a September trip to Warsaw that was, ironically, part of a strategy to improve traditionally difficult relations between the two countries.

Polish radio claims that the Kremlin has frozen all contacts with Polish institutions, including a bilateral committee investigating the 1940 Katyn massacre, when the Red Army killed almost 22,000 Polish soldiers.

"By hosting these [missiles], Poland is making itself a target. This is 100 per cent [certain]," said Gen Anatoly Nogovitsin, deputy head of Russia's armed forces, to the Interfax news agency.

"It [Poland] has become a target for attack. Such targets are destroyed as a first priority."

Other officials said the timing of the agreement - during the crisis in Georgia - confirmed Russian suspicions about the plan.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's Nato envoy said, "Of course the missile defence system will be deployed, not against Iran but against the strategic potential of Russia."

A spokeswoman for president George Bush in Washington has dismissed the Russian claim, reiterating the US position that the shield is not aimed at Russia.

Dana Perino, the White House press secretary said, "It's just not even logically possible for it to be aimed at Russia, given how Russia could overwhelm it."

"The purpose of missile defence is to protect our European allies from any rogue threats, such as a missile from Iran," she added.

She declined to comment on hints from Polish prime minister Donald Tusk that the bilateral deal grants Poland protection from the US above and beyond existing Nato obligations.

"Poland will no longer be in a sphere in which it is not directly defended," said Mr Tusk, explaining on Polish television the plan to establish the first permanent base for US troops on Polish territory.

As well as the 10 interceptor missiles, the US troops will, at Polish insistence, have under their command Patriot missiles to boost Poland's air defences.

Mr Tusk is anxious to claim the deal, agreed this week in haste after months of Polish stalling, as a success for his government and to dispel claims from political rivals that he is "soft" on Russia.

Pawel Swieboda, a Polish foreign policy analyst, said: "For Poland the shield is more about consolidating its role in Nato, its partnership with the US and about having physical elements of American infrastructure on the ground - all with the Russian situation in mind."