MOSCOW — Poland’s decision to accept a U.S. missile interceptor base on its territory exposes it to attack, possibly by nuclear weapons, a top Russian general told the Interfax news agency Friday.
The statement by Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn is the strongest yet by a top Russia official against U.S. plans to install missile a defence system in former Soviet-bloc states.
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 states. Moscow has scoffed at that explanation, saying the missiles are aimed at undermining Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
“Poland, by deploying (the system) is exposing itself to a strike — 100 per cent,” Gen. Nogovitsyn, the Russian military’s deputy chief of staff, was quoted as saying.
He added, in clear reference to the agreement, that Russia’s military doctrine sanctions the use of nuclear weapons “against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them.”
That would include elements of strategic deterrence systems, Gen. Nogovitsyn told Interfax.
At a news conference earlier Friday, Gen. Nogovitsyn reiterated Russia’s frequently stated warning that placing missile-defence elements in Poland and the Czech Republic would bring an unspecified military response. But his subsequent reported statement substantially stepped up a war of words.
Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski was quoted Friday by the Polish news agency PAP as saying that Poland is open to Russian inspections because it wants to give Moscow “tangible proof” that the planned base is not directed against Russia.
U.S. officials have said the timing of the deal was not meant to antagonize Russian leaders at a time when relations already are strained over the recent fighting between Russia and Georgia over the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia.
Russian forces went deep into Georgia in the fighting, raising concerns that Moscow might seek to occupy parts of its small, pro-U.S. neighbour, which has vigorously lobbied to join NATO, or to force its government to collapse.
“I think the Russian behaviour over the last several days is generally concerning not only to the United States but to all of our European allies,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, when asked about the Russian threats against Poland.
In an interview on Poland’s news channel TVN24, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the United States agreed to help augment Poland’s defences with Patriot missiles in exchange for placing 10 missile defence interceptors in the Eastern European country.
He said the deal also includes a “mutual commitment” between the two countries to come to each other’s assistance “in case of trouble.”
That clause appeared to be a direct reference to Russia.
Poland has all along been guided by fears of a newly resurgent Russia, an anxiety that has intensified with Russia’s offensive in Georgia. In past days, Polish leaders said that fighting justified Poland’s demands that it get additional security guarantees from Washington in exchange for allowing the anti-missile base on its soil.
“Simply the existence of this installation increases Poland’s security,” Polish President Lech Kaczynski said Friday.