A top Russian general said Friday that Poland's agreement to accept a U.S. missile interceptor base exposes the ex-communist nation to attack, possibly by nuclear weapons, the Interfax news agency reported.
The statement by Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn is the strongest threat that Russia has issued against the plans to put missile defense elements in former Soviet satellite nations.
Poland and the United States on Thursday signed a deal for Poland to accept a missile interceptor base as part of a system the United States says is aimed at blocking attacks by rogue nations. Moscow, however, feels it is aimed at Russia's missile force.
"Poland, by deploying (the system) is exposing itself to a strike — 100 percent," Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of staff, was quoted as saying.Meanwhile, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili agreed to changes to the tenuous cease-fire agreement with Russia today, despite some concessions to Moscow's interests in the conflict.
At a joint appearance with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Tiblisi after signing the accord, Saakashvili lashed out again at Russia and the West. We will "never, ever surrender" he said about the conflict with Russia.
He then accused the West of triggering Russian aggression by denying his country membership in NATO.
Rice defended the new cease-fire document, saying it requires that the Soviets leave Georgia immediately adding that the time has come "to begin a discussion of the consequences of what Russia has done."
Saakashvili used the opportunity to again criticize the West. He says he warned the world about a Russian military buildup for months. He says that Russia mobilized 1,200 tanks within hours to invade Georgian territory.
"This whole thing could of been prevented," Saakashvili said.
"We are today looking evil directly in the eye," a visibly emotional Saakashvili told reporters. He said Georgia would never reconcile itself to any occupation of its territory by Russia.
Earlier President Bush also lashed out at Moscow saying that "bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."
"Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected. Moscow must honor its commitment to withdraw its invading forces from all Georgian territory," Bush said before leaving for a vacation in Texas.
In a day marked by diplomacy, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany met with the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, to discuss the situation in Georgia.
Another sign of the deteriorating relations between Russia and the U.S. flared up Friday over the proposed U.S. missiles defense system that will be placed in Poland. Rice announced this week that final details have been worked out and she hopes to sign the agreement with Poland soon.
Senior Russian defense official, Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, suggested that Poland was making itself a target by agreeing to host the anti-missile system. Such an action "cannot go unpunished," he warned.
In the Caucasus Friday, there are continued reports of Russian military maneuvers within Georgia, and U.S. intelligence reports indicate that for the last few days Russian soldiers have been steadily dismantling the Georgian military infrastructure, most recently blowing up several vessels in the Black Sea port of Poti.
These actions are in direct contradiction to the second point of the cease-fire plan that Saakashvili has just signed and is now awaiting a Russian signature. It calls for "an immediate halt to all military action."
It also demands that "Russian troops return to the lines they held before the start of the military operation." But their presence is still apparent in several Georgian towns, most notably the flashpoint of Gori, where Russia maintains they are working with the Georgian police to establish law and order.
When ABC News visited Gori yesterday Russian troops were blocking the roads with tanks and refusing to allow journalists access. Today they are continuing the blockade but have allowed in some humanitarian aid.
"It's quiet there, but now there are problems with food," said Alexander Lomaia, the head of Georgia's national security council.
But the most contentious point of the six-part peace plan is the last one, which calls for "The start of an international discussion over the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia." This is where the diplomatic war is really being fought.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Merkel, Russian President Medvedev said, "Unfortunately after what has happened it is unlikely that the Ossetians and the Abkhazians will be able to live in one state together with the Georgians.
Medvedev added that Russian peacekeepers would guarantee the "will of the people" of the two regions.
As Bush made clear in his statement this morning, the United States wants to see the text refer to respect for Georgia's "territorial integrity," an oft-repeated phrase that was noticeably absent from the six-point plan, according to officials.
The United States is also concerned about the fifth point in the agreement, added at the urging of the Russians, which allows in vague terms for Russian troops to act in a peacekeeping role even outside of South Ossetia. "Before an international solution is worked out Russian peacekeepers are to take up an additional security role," the clause says.
Russia is using the clause to explain its continued military presence within Georgia, saying that its role in places like Gori is necessary after looting and armed robbery broke out upon Georgian troops' departure.
Point five allows for a holdover force until an international peacekeeping force replaces them, but that may take some time, perhaps even months.
The United States may try to punish Russia, or at least hold punitive measures over Moscow's head in order to push a deal through.
The Russians succeeded in adding the contentious points by bargaining from a strong position, and the United States is trying to take back the high ground, observers say. Namely, the United States is threatening to block Russia's accession into the World Trade Organization, something it has coveted for years with American backing.
Similarly, the United States may try to block future meetings of the NATO-Russia council. Just this week the United States boycotted such a meeting, and Russia refused to attend without the United States at the table. "There are a lot of signals being sent," said one senior American official.
Russia's membership in the G-8 may also be in jeopardy, but officials note that this option may not be actively pursued.
For now, Rice is focused on resolving the conflict diplomatically and showing America's "unwavering support" of Georgia. As President Bush put it today, "The people of Georgia have cast their lot with the free world, and we will not cast them aside."
However Rice has a difficult task proving this to the Georgian people many of whom feel abandoned by their super-power ally. As one newspaper headline in Tblisi put it this morning. "Georgia. All alone in standoff with Russia". The word Georgia written is in red and the picture is of a man on the ground cradling a dead body and reaching out in anguish, his face distorted.
The Associated Press and Clarissa Ward in Tblisi contributed to this report.