Polish people demonstrate in the town of Redzikowo against plans to deploy a missile shield defense system. In the wake of the Russia/Georgia conflict, Poland and the US have quickly moved forward their deal to build a controversial missile defense shield. (Photo: Reuters)
Poland and the US have signed a deal to build a controversial missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, the Polish prime minister said.
The agreement highlights how Russia's invasion of Georgia has prompted a swift reappraisal of the region's security and alliances.
The US and Poland have been talking about the missile shield for a year but rushed to cement their alliance in the wake of this week's conflict.
Donald Tusk, the prime minister, said that talks had been completed on a preliminary agreement and "technical questions remained".
Washington plans to site a silo of 10 interceptor missiles at the Brdy army base in northern Poland to accompany a radar installation in the Czech Republic. The radar station, probably to be sited at Gorsko, has already been agreed by Prague and is awaiting parliamentary ratification.
"We feel at the moment a greater concern for our safety," said Bogdan Klich, the Polish defence minister, evoking fears of a resurgent Russia, widespread in the former Eastern Bloc. "That's why every installation of the Western world on the Polish territory has its meaning, because it anchors Poland more deeply to the West."
While America says the shield is designed to destroy lone missiles from "rogue states" such as Iran, Russia considers it a strategic encirclement that undermines its nuclear deterrent. If fully agreed now, the system would be ready by around 2012.
Mr Klich said that Poland and America were "really at the finish line of these talks", hinting that Washington was finally prepared to meet Polish security demands in return for housing the silo.
Most significantly, Poland wants American-run Patriot missile batteries on its territory, in what it considers the best defence against potential Russian retaliation.
"It seems that the Americans have changed their view due to the situation in the Caucasus," Mr Klich said yesterday. "In the eyes of Washington, this conflict has proved that Russia isn't a stable partner and continues to consider its international surroundings as its exclusive sphere of influence."
Analysts suggest that the conflict in Georgia has sent shock waves through countries that once lay behind the Iron Curtain.
"Appeasement is over," said Carina O'Reilly, the European Security Editor of Jane's Defence Weekly. "With Russian tanks rolling into Georgia, there's a feeling [among former Eastern Bloc states] that the tanks could roll over their borders too. There's a certain urgency now."
Mr Tusk, once considered to be considerably more Russia-friendly than Jaroslaw Kaczynski, his Moscow-sceptic predecessor, is now making that urgency clear. "Our arguments about the need for a permanent presence of US troops and missiles on Polish soil have been taken seriously by the American side," he said.
"The events in the Caucasus show clearly that such security guarantees are indispensable.
"As soon as we are sure that Poland's security has been reinforced to the degree we want, we're not going to wait for hours to sign a deal."