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Poland: Concern About NATO-Russia Talks

Prague, 28 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski says that his country ought to be involved in any talks between NATO and Russia about military infrastructure on Polish territory.

Infrastructure consists of various military installations, such as bases, airports and transportation networks.

Kwasniewski has told Germany's news weekly "Der Spiegel" that Poland expected to be consulted on future NATO-Russia talks on the issue. The interview is to be published tomorrow but was released today.

After the recent U.S.-Russia Summit in Helsinki, President Boris Yeltsin said that the planned charter on NATO-Russian relations would provide guarantees that the Western alliance refrain from using the military infrastructure left on the territory of prospective NATO members in Central Europe after the dissolution of the Communist-era Warsaw Pact.

President Bill Clinton did not address the issue at the post-summit press conference.

It is widely assumed that NATO will invite the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join the alliance. All three were members of the Soviet-centered Warsaw Pact.

Kwasniewski said that it was still unclear what had actually been agreed at the Helsinki Summit with respect to the issue of military infrastructure, and he emphasized the need for clarification.

Poland maintains that its relatively well developed military infrastructure forms now, and has always been, part of its own system of national defense. Polish officials say the country's past membership in the Warsaw Pact reflected political exigencies of the times, rather than any lasting strategic inheritance of that now defunct alliance.

Polish Deputy Defense Minister Andrzej Karkoszka yesterday told the Warsaw daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" that Yeltsin's assertion that military infrastructures of Central Europe belonged to the former Warsaw Pact was both historically and politically "faulty." In Poland, Karkoszka said, there are only properly Polish military installations and remnants of largely devastated Russian bases, which are being dismantled with considerable expenditure for Poland.

Karkoszka said that Yeltsin's claims were designed to turn the prospective Central European NATO members into "second class" participants in the western alliance. Any decision by NATO to refrain from using the Polish military infrastructure, Karkoszka said, would effectively cripple logistical and tactical links between Poland and other NATO members, preventing the establishment of integrated command systems and undermining security arrangements.

NATO officials have repeatedly said that the new entrants will have equal rights and obligations with those of the current members. Polish military installations have been used in recent years by NATO forces for maneuvers and exercises.

Karkoszka said that Poland has accepted those assurances in good faith. But he also said that "uncertainties, and a certain degree of apprehension is likely to exist until Poland gains full membership in the alliance."

There is little doubt that Poland's concerns about the terms of its possible membership in NATO are shared by other prospective Central European candidates for entry.

That much has been demonstrated in frequent public statements on the subject by Czech, Hungarian and other Central European leaders. The political fates of their countries have frequently been decided by others, more often than not with painful consequences. All of them decided to turn toward the West after the fall of communism had ended Moscow's domination over the region. And most of them now see in full NATO membership a guarantee of their political stability and effective security.

This, more than anything else, explains the anxiety of the Central Europeans that NATO should not agree to accept some form of a watered-down membership for them to neutralize Moscow's persistent and vocal objections that the alliance's expansion in the East threatens Russia's security and isolates it from the rest of Europe.

Poland's public demonstration of its concerns testifies to the apparent determination to prevent this from happening.