Poland and the United States struck a deal that will see a missile defence shield in the ex-communist state and deepen military ties, a plan that has infuriated Moscow and sparked fears in Europe of a new arms race.
"We have crossed the Rubicon," the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said yesterday, referring to US consent to Poland's demands after more than 18 months of often terse talks.
In an interview on news channel TVN24, Tusk said the United States had agreed to help augment Poland's defences with Patriot missiles in exchange for placing 10 missile defence interceptors in the Eastern European country.
He said the deal also includes a "mutual commitment" between the two nations to come to each other's assistance "in case of trouble."
The clause on mutual assistance appeared to be a direct and potent reference to Russia, which has threatened to aim missiles toward Poland — a former Soviet satellite — if it agreed to host the US site.
Washington says the system, which does not yet work, is needed to protect the US and Europe from possible attacks from so-called rogue states, including Iran.
However, Poland has all along been guided by fears of a newly resurgent Russia — fear that recent fighting in Georgia has only magnified.
Russia's lightning-quick incursion into Georgia, along with its bombing of military outposts and airfields there, has underlined a palpable fear in the region of Russia's renewed vigor and confidence.
In past days, Polish leaders said that the war justified Poland's demands that it get additional security guarantees in exchange for allowing the site on its soil.
Talking about the "mutual commitment" part of the agreement, Tusk said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation would be too slow in coming to Poland's defence if threatened and that the bloc would take "days, weeks to start that machinery."
"Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later — it is no good when assistance comes to dead people. Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of — knock on wood — any possible conflict," Tusk said.
He said with the Patriot missiles we "will be able to effectively protect our territory."
But after the deal was announced, both US and Polish officials attempted to play down any connection to the Georgian war.
"This is not linked to the situation in Georgia," the chief US negotiator John Rood told The Associated Press. "We had made these arrangements for this round of negotiations before the conflict in Georgia, and so we just merely continued with the schedule we had."
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino also said the timing was not meant to further antagonise Russia. "We believe that missile defence is a substantial contribution to Nato's collective security," she said.
In initial reaction from Russia, the parliamentary foreign affairs committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying the agreement will spark "a real rise in tensions in Russian-American relations." He also said the plan targets Russia — a claim strongly denied by Washington.
After Tusk announced the deal, it went through an initial signing ceremony yesterday in Warsaw, but still needs approval from Poland's government and parliament, and a final signing from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a yet unspecified date.
At the signing, Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said the deal would strengthen the US, Poland and Nato. Earlier this year, Nato endorsed the US plan to expand its global missile defence shield with the planned site in Poland and a linked radar tracking base in the Czech Republic.
"Only evil people should be afraid of our agreement," Sikorski told reporters after Rood and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Kremer, initialed the agreement at the Foreign Ministry.
The US has also reached an agreement with the Czech government to place the radar component of the shield in that country. That deal still needs approval from Czech parliament.Reuse content