Russia irked as Poland unveils first Patriot missile base
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Polish and US officials have unveiled Poland's first Patriot-type missile base in the town of Morag near the Russian border, in a move Moscow says will jeopardize bilateral relations and security in the region.
AFP - Polish and US officials unveiled on Wednesday the first battery of US surface-to-air Patriot-type missiles to be stationed on Polish soil, a move that has vexed Poland's communist-era master Russia.
"We regard the deployment of the Patriot system in Poland as an important step increasing our national security and in developing strategic cooperation with the United States," Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich said.
He was speaking at ceremonies at a Polish military base in the north-eastern town of Morag, just 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the border with Russia's Kaliningrad territory.
"This is not just about the equipment because this one battery is not the be-all and end-all. This is about people -- that American soldiers who will service the battery are standing on Polish soil," Klich said, adding he hoped more US troops would be stationed in Poland in the future.
The minister also warned the US troops stationed on Polish soil for the first time not "to waste" the hospitality and trust offered by local residents.
The Patriots, designed to intercept incoming surface-to-surface missiles, and some 150 US troops due to service them, arrived in Morag on Sunday.
A US embassy spokesman told AFP the first rotation of Patriots is unarmed.
"There are not live missiles in this first rotation. Live missiles will be included in future rotations," US embassy spokesman Andrew Paul told AFP in a telephone interview.
Regardless, Russia on Wednesday slammed the US decision to deploy the Patriots in Poland, saying the move jeopardized bilateral relations and security in the region.
"It is unclear why such a region located in the immediate proximity to the Russian border has been found for the deployment and where, as far as we know, there are no objects of military infrastructure," the Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying.
"Such actions do not fit the current level of our ties, do not lead to the strengthening of stability in this region but on the contrary decrease trust and predictability," the official said.
Poland has repeatedly insisted that the base close to Kaliningrad was not chosen for political or strategic reasons, but simply because it already has good infrastructure.
In February, Poland ratified the so-called SOFA deal on the stationing on its soil of US troops who will crew the Patriot battery and train Polish soldiers to use the system.
In September 2009 US President Barack Obama scrapped a plan agreed a year earlier by his predecessor George W. Bush to install a controversial anti-missile shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Under that now-shelved deal, the United States also pledged to help upgrade Poland's national air defences with Patriot missiles and has stuck to that part of the agreement.
The anti-missile shield plan had enraged Russia, which dubbed it a menace to its security on its very doorstep, although Washington insisted it was meant to ward off a potential long-range missile threat from Iran.
Warsaw and Prague were part of Moscow's Soviet-era sphere of control, but became solid US allies after breaking from the crumbling communist bloc in 1989, and joined NATO in 1999.