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26 May, 2010 11:26

American Patriots to occupy rural Polish town

In 800 years, the town of Morong in northern Poland has survived several military invasions and epidemics. Since the end of World War II it’s been quiet here, but now this rural town finds itself in the headlines.

There is a military base in Morong where the first battery of American Patriot missile complexes will be placed. Poised to be a purely ground-to-air defensive installation, it represents a change in Washington’s initiative of building a missile defense shield in Central Europe. Warsaw says the Patriot complexes – which will be operated by US servicemen – are a cheaper and more convenient alternative to the multi-billion-dollar hardware of the initial plan.

Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s Foreign Minister told RT: “Patriot missiles are very small tactical defensive systems, operating at very short range. And it has nothing to do with global security. There are dozens of these missiles in Germany, Turkey, all over the place. Japan has some too. It’s nothing to worry about for any neighbor of Poland.”

Bush administration plans to build a major global missile interception system caused rifts internationally – with Russia saying such a shield would threaten its own defense – and locally, when thousands in both Poland and the Czech Republic protested.

Last year, Barack Obama altered the original blueprint, calling it a change in threat perception. Now, even those who were strongly against the missile shield say the new plan doesn’t worry them.

“This has a rather symbolic, psychological meaning. Sort of a consolation prize for Warsaw’s ruling right. In a very impoverished province with the highest unemployment rate in Poland this could even be perceived as a chance of establishing new jobs,” believes professor Tadeusz Iwinski, Deputy of Poland’s parliament.

But not everyone in the Morong area is so happy. Artem Bologov – an entrepreneur from a nearby city – criticized the move because the missiles will stand less than a hundred kilometers from the border with Russia. He believes the arrival of the Patriots would be a serious blow to the region’s hopes of becoming a major tourist destination.

“Our local authorities prioritize development of tourism in order to create jobs. We suffer from unemployment. But who would want to go on a holiday next to American missiles? Besides, I feel Russian businessmen will be afraid to do business with us, and that is something we have been strongly relying on.”

The missiles in Morong would become the first step in Washington’s new security plan. And while military experts speculate whether the system would be useful, political analysts describe the arrival of Patriots to northern Poland as an act of diplomacy. After Obama curbed Bush’s plan, Warsaw is believed to have been insulted. So the new scheme – according to analysts – is more like a compromise between the U.S. and its main central European ally.

START contains no U.S. concessions to Russia – Kissinger

As debate rages in the U.S. over ratification of the START Treaty to cut Russian and American nuclear arsenals by a third, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger has given his backing to the deal.

Despite criticism of perceived concessions to Russia, he says American security is at the heart of the agreement.

“Firstly, I don't consider them concessions,” Kissinger said. “Secondly, we made them not to Russia at all, but to our idea of American security and to what we think is needed for a stable international system.”

The decision to redeploy the Patriot system closer to Russian borders comes in the midst of important US-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations. Many analysts in Russia evaluate this step as a deliberate attempt to undermine Russian-American relations, shared Aleksandr Pikaev from the Moscow Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

At the same time, Pikaev said that the system deployed is too old to create serious problems for Russia’s nuclear potential.

Despite the fact that the new ABM system is far less ambitious than the one proposed by the Bush administration, the timing for deployment was wrongly chosen as talks with Russia are in full swing,

As for Russia’s proposal to create a joint anti-missile system for Europe based on a joint threat assessment – it is possible, particularly in the early detection area, noted Pikaev. He added that probably sometime later this year an agreement will be achieved, but the latest American move in Poland “is not exactly what is needed for successful consultations.”

Anton Bespalov, political analyst from the Voice of Russia radio station, believes the decision could be part of the efforts to restore the United States’ reputation in Central Europe.

“Barack Obama’s ratings in Central Europe and Poland, especially, are going down since he scrapped [Bush's plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe] and is working too intensely with Russia," Bespalov said. "They see it as a kind of retreat of America from Eastern Europe. So, he is a hostage in this situation and he has to show to Poland that America remains with [Poland].”

According to Ivan Timofeev from the Moscow Institute of International Relations, Russia has reasons to view U.S. rockets in Poland as a real threat.

“I think that is not a grave threat,” he told RT. “However, the Patriots in Poland will not make Russia safer, and Russia has to take it into account.”

“The Patriots will be deployed only 100 kilometers from Kaliningrad, and Kaliningrad is the main base of the Russian Baltic Fleet, so Russia may perceive it as regional and local threat and will have to react somehow,” Timofeev added.

Moscow’s current concern with the plan is much greater than it was with the previous one in the Bush era, says independent political analyst Vladimir Kozin.

“Instead of two systems there will be five types of BMD missiles; and instead of three countries involved in the former plan, there will be 28 involving all NATO members,” Vladimir Kozin explained.

So it is not a compromise in the Russia-US-Poland missile triangle as some have put it, rather a compromise in US-Polish relations, Kozin concluded.

Dr Theodore Postol from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says he is doubtful about the missiles’ capabilities:

The Pentagon made these claims before. We have been proven right every time. These guys have been lying about the capabilities of their systems. This is, of course, a great concern, because building a national strategy on the assumption that certain technologies are going to work and have no chance of working raises the prospects of catastrophic situations.”