The United States and Poland have signed an agreement to station elements of a U.S. missile defense shield on Polish soil. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at the agreement which is vehemently opposed by Russia.
The agreement between Washington and Warsaw allows the United States to build, maintain and operate a military facility for ten ground-based, long-range missile interceptors. The site in Poland, along with a radar in the Czech Republic, forms the European component of a global missile defense system Washington says is needed against potential threats from countries such as Iran.
American officials have consistently said the missile defense system is not targeted against Russia. For their part, Russian leaders have always strongly criticized the missile defense system.
Robert Legvold from Columbia University, says Moscow's vehement stance comes in part from its opposition to the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - or NATO.
"They don't really believe that the theater-missile defense components in Poland and in the Czech Republic, although they are very small, are in fact, in the end, really intended for Iran," he said. "The other piece of this is that the Russians have opposed the general national military defense program of the United States for a very long time."
"And they put the two things together: they think this is the camel's nose under the tent, that the United States is putting in place in Alaska, now in central Europe and who knows where next, the components of an effective, for a much more extensive ballistic missile defense system that would be directed against Russian nuclear capabilities," he continued.
The United States and Poland, a NATO member, have been involved in tough negotiations over the stationing of defensive missiles on Polish soil.
Analysts, such as Stephen Jones from Mount Holyoke College (in Massachusetts), say Russia's intervention in Georgia spurred both sides to strike a deal following the visit to Tbilisi by Polish president Lech Kaczynski.
"The president traveled to Georgia [August 13] when there was a rally in Tbilisi and stood beside [Georgian president Mikhail] Saakashvili and said now we see the real face of Russia," he said. "Here is the president of Poland clearly suggesting that Russia is a serious military threat to all its neighbors. That is obviously going to lead to the action that its has taken - that is to defend itself as best it can."
As part of the deal, the United States also agreed to provide Warsaw with a battery of Patriot missiles, a defense against incoming short-range ballistic missiles.
Robert Legvold says that part of the agreement is specifically aimed at Russia.
"The Russian military actions in Georgia not only broke through whatever resistance the Polish government had to doing the deal without getting further satisfaction on the terms of the deal, but in addition, pushed both sides to build in these extra defensive measures which are clearly directed against Russia," he said. "No one raises any question but that the Patriot missile battery, or batteries, that are to be put in Poland, plus the joint administration and patrolling of them by both U.S. and Polish forces, is designed for Russia."
Marshall Goldman from Harvard University says the presence of U.S. troops on Polish soil affirms Washington's commitment to Poland's security and defense.
"If the Russians should do anything to attack those missiles and American lives are at risk, then that would mean that the debate about whether or not the United States would actually do something to protect members of NATO would become academic," said Goldman. "And indeed because American troops were there, it would serve as a trigger and the United States would react."
As expected, Russia reacted strongly and angrily to the U.S.-Polish missile deal. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow's response will go beyond diplomacy. But he did not say what measures Moscow is contemplating.