Russia Makes New Threats Over U.S.-Poland Missile Deal

Rice signs deal with Poland, says Russia's threats "border on the bizarre."


MOSCOW, Aug. 20, 2008 -- Russia's foreign ministry today threatened to go beyond diplomatic protests in response to the signing of a U.S.-Polish deal to base part of an American missile defense system in Poland, which borders part of Russia.

The latest threat came after a top Russian general said Poland would risk a military strike if it allowed the base and as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed Russia's saber rattling, saying the threats "border on the bizarre."

"When you threaten Poland, you perhaps forget that it is not 1988," Rice said, according to The Associated Press. "It's 2008 and the United States has a ... firm treaty guarantee to defend Poland's territory as if it was the territory of the United States. So it's probably not wise to throw these threats around."

But in addition to the threats, Russia may be making a more concrete move. Norway's defense ministry claims Russia has told it that it plans to cut all military ties with NATO, The Associated Press reports.

The United States insists that the missile defense deal signed with Poland today is meant to protect the West from rogue states like Iran and North Korea. Poland, however, sees this as defense against Russia, a closer, and much more powerful, potential adversary.

Hours before inking the pact with Rice, Poland's President Lech Kaczynski addressed his nation on TV and declared, "No one will ever again tell Poland what to do and what not to do."

He was likely referring to Russia, which invaded Poland in 1939 and asserted control over the Polish government until the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1990.

Kaczynski's defiant speech came a week after Russia angrily warned that allowing U.S. missile interceptors on Polish soil put Poland at risk of a military strike.

"If Poland allows elements of the U.S. missile shield to be placed in its territory it will expose itself to a strike ... and that's a hundred percent sure," threatened deputy head of Russia's General Staff Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn.

Nogovitsyn's comment was particularly menacing, since it came days after Russian forces invaded its neighbor Georgia in a spat over the province of South Ossetia.

"It's Georgia today, Ukraine tomorrow and Poland may be next," Kaczynski said.

Today, Russia's foreign ministry issued a new threat -- implying that Russia was the target of the new missile base and not some "imaginary Iranian danger."

"Russia in this case will have to react, and not only through diplomatic protests," said a statement from the ministry, according to Reuters.

The statement described the missile shield as "one of the instruments in an extremely dangerous bundle of American military projects involving the one-sided development of a global missile shield system."

According to the deal, the United States will construct a military base at Redzikowo on the Baltic coast. There, on an area no larger than the size of a football field, will be 10 silos with missiles ready for possible launch by 2012.

The relatively small missile defense system could be easily overwhelmed by Russia's vast force of long-range missiles, but under the deal the United States also agreed to provide a Patriot missile defense system that could be used to defend Poland against a short-range missile defense threat that could potentially come from Russia.

In today's pact, the United States and Poland agreed to a "mutual commitment" to come to each other's assistance "in case of military or other threats."

Aleksander Szczyglo, defense minister in Poland's previous government, went so far as to call today's signing one of three significant "milestones" since Poland regained full independence in 1989.

"First was NATO membership, then joining the European Union and now a tangible tightening of our alliance with the U.S.," he said.

Russia's renewed assertiveness and its invasion of Georgia has fortified fears that the Kremlin may attempt to regain its spheres of influence and meddle in Polish affairs.

"Russia wants to regain influence over Poland, similar to influence Russia enjoyed during the time of the Warsaw Pact," military analyst Michal Fiszer told ABC News. "Any increase in Polish defense and security goes against those plans."

It would seem that as a member of NATO and the European Union Poland should feel it has enough security guarantees. But many Polish politicians express frustration with Western Europe's approach to Russia as too submissive and vulnerable to Russian oil and gas blackmail.

Only weeks ago, the 18 months of Polish-U.S. missile talks appeared on the verge of collapse. The Poles suspended negotiations after the United States refused to meet their demands and public opinion polls found that 70 percent of Poles were against the missile shield on their territory. Poles began protesting the plan.

All that changed on Aug. 8, when Russian armor rolled into Georgia.

"When Russia performs military operations that are perceived as aggressive and brutal, even relatively far from our borders, people in Poland fear," political analyst Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas told ABC News.

"The war in Georgia very quickly and suddenly changed the mood of Poles," Kostrzewa-Zorbas said. "In a week, a strong majority emerged supporting the American missile shield in Poland."

Now, 63 percent support American military presence on Polish soil and feel that the closer ties enhance Poland's security.

The American side also had a large shift in opinion.

"The Americans were unwilling to give Poland any anti-missile and air defense system optimized to defend Polish airspace and territory. They did not want to give Poland Patriot missiles," he said. "Now it is different."

Pawel Zaleski, a member of the Polish parliament, told ABC News that it is clear that Russia is trying to "create an area of domination around its borders."

"People in Poland do remember history, and they understand what it means to have such a neighbor returning to his old ways," Zaleski said. "People see the war in Georgia ... so of course it creates an impact on people's thinking."

Marek Ostrowsk, an analyst for the Polityka weekly, told ABC News that Poland traditionally has more confidence in the United States than its European alliances.

"Traditionally and historically, we think America is more reliable than Europe," Ostrowsk said. "In 1918, we regained independence thanks to the U.S. When World War II began in 1939, we were let down by our allies, Britain and France. But the U.S. has never failed us."

ABC News' Michael S. James contributed to this report.

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