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Czechs and Poles Hit Back at Moscow

WARSAW -- Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski suggested on Tuesday that Russian opposition to a U.S. proposal to build a missile-defense system in Poland stemmed from Moscow's hopes to regain influence over its former satellite.

Also Tuesday, the Czech Republic said it would not be intimidated by Russia over plans to place parts of the system on Czech territory and said attempts at "blackmail" by Moscow would backfire.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski's comments came one day after the commander of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, General Nikolai Solovtsov, warned that Poland and the Czech Republic risked being targeted by Russian missiles if they agreed to host U.S. missile defense installations.

"To make it clear -- this is not about Russian security. These installations do not in any way threaten Russia," Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on state Radio 1.

"It's about the status of Poland and about Russian hopes that the zone, in other words Poland, will once again find itself ... in the Russian sphere of influence," he said.

"From the moment the missile bases are installed here, the chances of that happening, for at least decades to come, very much declines," he said.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said threats by Russian officials over the plans, which would involve placing a radar system on Czech territory and a missile battery in Poland, would only make the Czech people more determined to defend themselves.

"The Czechs will now think the shield is even more necessary," Schwarzenberg said. "We have quite an experience with Russians. You have to make clear to them you won't succumb to blackmail. Once you give in to blackmail, there's no going back. We have to be strong."

The United States wants Poland and the Czech Republic to host elements of its multibillion-dollar global system designed to counter missiles fired by what Washington calls "rogue states," such as Iran and North Korea.

Moscow views the system as an attempt to shift the post-Cold War balance of power, and relations between Moscow and Washington have soured since the announcement of the U.S. plans.

Both the Polish and Czech prime ministers have said their countries would likely accept the installations, which would tie their interests to Washington in the long term.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tried to calm the waters, saying Russia wanted to avoid an arms race and that it hoped to work as a team with the West.


(The Moscow Times 21.ii.07)

 
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