Friday, August 15, 2008

Irony and non-relatedness: Washington and Warsaw sign a GMD agreement

I love life – it is full of ironies. Read here about the latest episode: for a long time the Russian complains about the offensive nature of the two European bases of the U.S. GMD system could be heard everywhere. Russia strongly opposed the missile shield plan, which it says will undermine its nuclear deterrent and threaten its national security. It tried hard to thwart Washington’s plans using some small carrots and numerous huge sticks:

Russian officials earlier said Moscow could deploy its Iskander tactical missiles and strategic bombers in Belarus and Russia's westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad if Washington succeeded in its missile shield plans in Europe. Moscow also warned it could target its missiles on Poland.
After all this rumbling, Russia was now the main reason why Poland and the United States signed yesterday, August 14, a preliminary agreement to deploy 10 interceptors in Poland operated by US soldiers. Its tanks in Georgia gave a fresh impetus to the negotiations and led to their conclusion.

The agreement was reached after Washington had "given very serious consideration" to Warsaw's demands, i.e. it agreed to reinforce Poland's air defenses. According to the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Poland will receive 96 Patriot missiles which it can base “wherever it regards it to be of importance for its security”.

Defence Minister Bogdan Klich told the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita:
"We're also counting on the fact that getting Patriots would allow us discounts on other batteries and open the road to a more modern air defence system, like the THAAD."
In addition to that there will be two U.S. garrisons permanently based on Polish territory. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in televised remarks that "the events in the Caucasus show clearly that such security guarantees are indispensable." But his Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has a different opinion: he said “this has nothing to do with Georgia […] We agreed this negotiating phase a week ago.” You can listen to a short interview with him here. White House and State Department officials also denied that the signing of the deal was linked to events in Georgia. I beg your pardon, not linked to Georgia? C’mon. Poland probably all of a sudden realized that it made a stupid mistake by not accepting the U.S. offer at the very beginning of the negotiation-marathon. The Russian tanks in Georgia in these days and back in 1968 in Prague during the Prague Spring are certainly not related to it at all.

Anyhow, the Russian senior State Duma member Gennady Gudkov said that the deal would further divide European countries into U.S. "vassals" and those pursuing more independent policies. It would be interesting to know if he had Georgia in mind as a shining example of an independent country when he made this comment.

Besides that there has been no factual response from Russia. Probably the threats of withdrawing from the INF treaty will be tabled again. The calls for deploying Iskander missiles in Belarus will also be heard again. Earlier this month Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alyaksandr Surikov noted that Russia will not return nuclear weapons to Belarus. However, this was back in the pre-agreement age. Only a symbolical step was taken so far: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is reported to have cancelled a scheduled visit to Poland shortly after the deal was announced. But probably this cancellation has nothing to do with this trip, too.

The deal still has to be ratified by Polish parliament, the Sejm and both countries’ governments. The US-Czech agreement which was signed on July 8 also awaits ratification. Officials say the interceptor base in Poland will be opened by 2012. The radar in Brdy, Czech Republic, is scheduled to be ready in 2014.

I am eager to get some updated polls to see if the attitude of the population of the two countries has change since the Russia’s Georgia adventure. Prior to that the percentage of Czechs and Poles who oppose the hosting of the GMD components was in the low 70’s.

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