Russia warns over new European arms race

Russia warned on Wednesday that the signing of a United States-Poland missile defence deal will fuel a new arms race in Europe and beyond and that it could impact beyond the diplomatic sphere.

An angry statement was released by the Russian Foreign Ministry soon after the deal was signed in Warsaw for a US missile defence shield to be set up in Poland and the Czech Republic.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted that Russia has nothing to fear from the shield and also denied that the world was entering a new Cold War.

But the Russian statement said: “Such actions create mistrust and spur an arms race on the continent and beyond its borders.”

Russia has repeatedly protested that the missile defence is a security threat on its own border and threatened to target the shield with its own missiles. The US says the system is intended to guard against missile attacks from “rogue states” such as Iran.

“It’s clear to us, and the American leadership doesn’t deny it, that the so-called missile shield in Europe will be widened and modernised. In that case Russia will be compelled to react—and not only by diplomatic protests,” the statement said.

The US is making “ever-clearer attempts to change the strategic balance of forces in its favour and hinder stability and predictability in world affairs”.

The statement took particular exception to a US agreement to deploy a battery of Patriot air-defence missiles in Poland from next year as part of the broader deal on missile defence.

“Such a battery can have nothing to do with parrying imaginary Iranian threats,” the statement said.

‘The Cold War is over’
The dispute over the missile defence has grown because of new tensions over Russia’s military surge into Georgia, in response to a flare-up in the pro-Moscow rebel region of South Ossetia.

Last week the deputy head of Russia’s General Staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, warned Poland was making itself a target “100%t” by participating in the US programme.

Washington plans to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland—plus a radar facility in the neighbouring Czech Republic—between 2011 and 2013.

“This will help us to deal with the new threats of the 21st century, of long-range missile threats from countries like Iran or from North Korea,” said Rice shortly before signing the accord in Warsaw with Poland’s Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski.

“Missile defence, of course, is aimed at no-one.
It is in our defence that we do this.”

Later she told reporters: “It is not aimed in any way at Russia.”

Poland and the Czech Republic are former Soviet Bloc nations who have been Nato members since 1999, and the missile shield will complete a system already in place in the US, Greenland and Britain.

Both countries have had rocky relations with Russia since splitting from the old Soviet bloc and joining the European Union and Nato.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said the deal was a sign of the crucial “strategic alliance” of Western nations.

“We have to remember that Western ... countries have certain values and principles in common,” he said. “We have to stand up for these principles and we have to defend them.”

US and Polish negotiators signed a preliminary deal in Warsaw last Thursday after 15 months of negotiations.

With Western relations with Moscow at their lowest ebb in years because of the Georgia conflict, there have been suggestions that the timing of the missile deal was no accident.

“Obviously, there is a certain environment you are operating in. You can’t deny it,” US negotiator John Rood said.

Rice said: “It is a difficult time but I think we shouldn’t overstate the depth of the difficulties ... The Cold War is over.”—AFP

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