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US sold us out over shield, cries Poland

Poland's media bluntly summed up the feelings of the country's political right towards President Obama's axing of plans for an east European missile shield today: "Betrayed! The USA has sold us to the Russians and stabbed us in the back," was the headline in one popular newspaper.

Observers pointed out that the US President's decision to make his announcement yesterday could hardly have shown less sensitivity. The date marks the 70th anniversary of the Red Army's invasion of Poland after Hitler and Stalin agreed to carve up the country between themselves.

In the Czech Republic, where the missile shield was also meant to be deployed, newspapers were similarly dismissive: "Obama gave in to the Kremlin," commented the daily Lidowe Noviny.

But in Poland, President Obama's decision now threatens to become a political hot potato. The opposition right wing Law and Justice Party has implied that the US deliberately abandoned plans for the weapons system in order to improve its ties with Russia.

The Kremlin was the project's fiercest opponent, although the US maintained all along that the shield was aimed to ward off any attack from Iran.

With elections looming in Poland, the decision to axe the shield has also raised fears on the right that the country is about to lose the special relationship it has enjoyed with America since the collapse of communism.

Poland's right wing president Lech Kacyznski yesterday attacked Prime Minister Donald Tusk's ruling Civic Platform party for failing to show that Poland was wholly committed to the missile project.

"In the process of negotiation with the American side, what was lacking was a feeling that the Polish government believes in the strategic character of the American presence in Poland," Kaczynski wrote in an article.

The suggestion that Poland has been betrayed by the US has been amplified by references to the country's history of wholesale support for America. Poland was one of the first eastern European nations to join NATO. It opted to buy American instead of European fighter plans for its airforce in 2003 and rallied to the support of Washington during the Iraq war.

Mr Tusk's centre-right, pro-EU government ousted its more conservative predecessor led by Lech Kaczynski's twin brother, Jaroslaw, in elections in 2007. Mr Tusk, who has been somewhat less enthusiastic about the missile project, is expected to challenge Lech Kaczynski in the country's presidential election next year. The country is also scheduled to hold a general election in 2011.

Yet although the missile shield has been backed to the hilt by Polish right wing parties, its popularity has waned substantially among voters. A recent survey showed that more that half of Poles were against the shield with only 29 percent supporting the idea.

Pawel Piewak, a sociologist at Warsaw University yesterday accused the Kaczynski twins of trying to present themselves as "true patriots" who were pro-American and anti-Russian. But he added: "Few in Poland believed that the missile shield would make us any safer."

Nevertheless, the Tusk government is now expected to try and make the most out of a separate defence agreement with Washington which foresees the stationing of US Patriot missiles on Polish soil for a limited period and American help in re-equipping the Polish armed forces.

In the Czech Republic, opinion polls have shown that the public are far more concerned with the caretaker government's efforts to bring the country's economy and its burgeoning budget deficit under control than with the missile shield issue.

However the Warsaw think tank, DemosEuropa, suggested yesterday that the decision to axe the missile shield could have long term implications for the Polish and Czech governments. "They will certainly be even more careful next time and Washington can forget about the two countries joining any future US-led coalition of the willing," it wrote in a commentary.