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U.S. Missiles To Be Placed Near Poland's Russian Border

(RFE/RL) -- Poland has made public the location of the U.S. Patriot missiles soon to arrive on its territory, an announcement that is likely to displease Moscow.

Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said U.S. Patriot-type surface-to-air missiles would be placed in northern Poland, some 60 kilometers from Russia's Kaliningrad territory.

On January 20, Poland's PAP news agency quoted Klich as saying the Patriot missiles would arrive as soon as late March or early April. The battery is aimed at upgrading Poland's air defenses.

But with Kaliningrad already surrounded by two NATO members – Poland and Lithuania -- Moscow is expected to oppose the move.

However, the initial response has been muted, with Interfax quoting the Defense Ministry as rejecting earlier reports Moscow planned to strengthen its defenses in the Baltic Sea.

Klich insisted that the choice of the town of Morag, near the Baltic coast, had "no political or strategic meaning." He said Morag, which is already home to a Polish military base, had the infrastructure that could easily be adapted to the needs of the new missile battery and the U.S. soldiers.

The outskirts of the capital, Warsaw, had previously been reported as the likely location to house the missiles.

Revised Plan

In December 2009, U.S. and Polish officials signed an agreement that paved the way for the deployment of a U.S. Patriot missile battery in Poland. The deal gave the green light for the construction of a missile base in Poland and specified conditions for the stationing of U.S. soldiers on Polish soil.

In September, President Barack Obama revised a plan that would have included missile-defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic to ward off what Washington said was the risk of attack by "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea.

The system, promoted by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had enraged Russia, which considered it as a threat to its security.

The revised plans foresee a more mobile system of missile interceptors at sea and on land aimed at protecting against the threat of short- and medium-range missiles.

In a consolation to Poland, perturbed by what it says is Russia's more assertive foreign policy, the administration agreed to deploy Patriot-type missiles in the country to upgrade its air defenses.

The announcement that the U.S. Patriot missiles will soon arrive near Kaliningrad could complicate the negotiations over a new nuclear pact.

'In Good Faith'

In December, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said U.S. plans for its missile-defense system were one of the main obstacles to agreeing the new treaty, which is meant to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). He also said Russia would build new weapons to offset the planned U.S. defense system.

Last year, Washington and Moscow began negotiating a new START treaty but failed to work out all their differences by the time it expired in December.

Asked about the Patriot announcement on January 20, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters it should not threaten the nuclear treaty talks.

“President Obama [and] President Dmitry Medvedev have pledged to complete this agreement," Crowley said. "We believe it’s still being conducted in good faith, and I would not think that complication will come into it.”

The White House said Obama had sent two of his top national security officials -- National Security Adviser James L. Jones and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen -- to Moscow on January 20 to clear the last hurdles to the new nuclear pact.

with agency reports