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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » February 4, 2009
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Where To Now For Shield?
February 4, 2009 By W.¯.    
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The on-off diplomatic tussle over deploying U.S. military systems in Europe is on again now that Barack Obama has assumed office as president of the United States. The U.S. "missile shield" due to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic under agreements signed last year is again a topic of contention.

Obama was no sooner sworn in than Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was announcing that the "signals" he was picking up from the new administration over the missile shield in Central Europe gave cause for "cautious optimism." Putin said he had picked up on comments from Obama's aides that installing parts of the shield in Central Europe should not proceed with undue haste and that the system's cost, purpose, and feasibility (in the sense of being combat ready on time) all required further analysis. "We welcome this news. We are ready to take part in any discussion to work out optimal ways of ensuring international security," he added.

Putin's words sparked anxiety in Warsaw and Prague. Poland's foreign ministry announced that it would seek rapid clarification on the new U.S. administration's position on the agreement former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed in Warsaw Aug. 20, 2008. The one thing nobody disputes is that any hold-up in implementing the agreement would be seen as a serious failure in Poland.

News agencies around the world were soon reporting, without giving details, that Obama had spoken with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and that new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had held talks with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On Jan. 28, Russian news agency Interfax quoted an anonymous General Staff source as saying that Russia was shelving its plans to deploy Iskander ballistic missiles in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave between Poland and Lithuania. Interfax interpreted this as Moscow's response to a putative change in policy on the shield on the part of Washington. The anonymous Russian source added that plans to deploy the Iskander missiles had been put on hold because the U.S. administration "is not presently pushing" to have parts of the American missile shield installed in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Medvedev said in November that Russia would be deploying new generation Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region and setting up a radar station there to hamper the operation of the U.S. bases in Poland and the Czech Republic as a countermeasure. Putin later added that Moscow would abandon these steps if the U.S. administration gave up its plans to build parts of the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied the Interfax report within hours. The ministry said in a statement, "The Russian military have not only not suspended deploying Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, they have not even begun doing so yet."
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