It seems that the United States deemed the second option to be the easier one and in contrast to what I have expected, my eastern neighbor obviously got what he was aiming for in a timely fashion: On Friday Poland and the United States clinched a deal “in principle” to install a missile defense system on Polish territory.
Reuters reported already last month that Poland's new centre-right government wants deeper security links with the United States and would like Washington to boost its air defenses with new short- and medium-range systems like the Patriot missile in exchange for Warsaw's cooperation. Following the breakthrough no details about the terms of cooperation were announced, it is not clear how much the United States finally paid for the Polish consent. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice only stated in vague terms:
"We understand that there is a desire for defense modernization in Poland, and particularly for air defense modernization in Poland. This is something that we support because it will make our ally, Poland, more capable."The support can range from a pure moral support to the delivery of PAC-3 systems. In general she tried to de-couple the missile defense issue of the modernization of the Polish armed forces. Mr. Sikorski echoed this approach final statement after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in which he stressed that the missile defense and the modernization of the Polish forces are two separate issues. The Secretary put the modernization rather in a NATO context and stressed the changed role of the Transatlantic Alliance and it’s out of area operations to which Poland with can contribute even more if it has modernized forces. Taking this statement, I would like to see an explanation by Ms. Rice how potential future Polish missile defense forces - supported by the United States - that are set up to defend Polish territory are suited to contribute to NATO out of area operations. It is not very likely that Poland will use these forces in NATO missions and leave its territory vulnerable.
Condoleezza Rice also tried to ease Russian concerns. She said that the United States and its "new European" partners will "put together an architecture for limited missile defenses, VERY limited missile defenses". While referring to the SDI-program of the 1980’s the Secretary stressed:
This [i.e. the current GMD program] is not that [i.e. SDI] program. This is not the son of that program. This is not the grandson of that program. This is a very different program that is meant to deal with limited threats. There is no way that a few interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic can degrade the thousands of nuclear warheads that the Russians have and there is no intent to do so.I doubt that this kind of missile defense genealogy is suited to soothe Russian concerns and the country’s fervently opposition to this program. Furthermore it is very questionable if it “will help us all to be safer” as predicted by Ms. Rice. As an indicator might serve the plans that were announced on January 30 according to which the Russian Defense Ministry contemplates to change the configuration of troops in Kaliningrad in response to U.S. missile shield.
However, it is way too early to assume that the whole issue is home and dry. Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski was cautious to raise too high expectations. He said that “there is still a great deal of work for our experts” and that there was still a long way to go. Or a bit more figuratively: "We are not at the end of the road as regards negotiations. We are in the middle of the road." His spokesperson, Mr. Piotr Paszkowski, was also very careful in the choice of his wording. He spoke of a framework for future talks and that there is so far definitely no agreement.
The talks for the second half of the negotiations-road will take time. At least some actors will change before the final deal will be made. President Bush’s days in office are numbered and the Russians will elect on March 2 a new president. Even though Putin’s designated successor Dmitry Medvedev uses a more moderate language, Putin will remain a key player in Russian politics and therefore it is unlikely that the tone of the debate will soften drastically.
Even if Mr. Sikorski said that “The idea is that America and Poland, thanks to what we are discussing today, can do more together in the future” the Russian side will definitely read the “can” as a “will”. Therefore we can anticipate another episode with a grumbling and threatening Russia on next Friday. On that day President Putin and Prime Minister Tusk will meet in Moscow and discuss the issue that “will help us all to be safer”.
For those of you who love primary sources, take a look at the remarks made after the meeting of Secretary Rice and FM Sikorski:
Russia picture: © RIA Novosti