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Politics

Patriot missile battery arrives in Poland

WARSAW (Reuters) - A U.S. Patriot missile battery has arrived in Poland as part of an agreement to upgrade the NATO ally’s air defenses, the U.S. embassy said on Monday, in a deployment likely to irritate neighboring Russia.

The battery, manned by up to 150 U.S. troops, will be stationed for about one month four times a year in Morag, northern Poland, close to Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad. Its main mission is to train Polish military personnel.

U.S. troops were unloading 37 railway cars of equipment on Monday, the embassy said. U.S. and Polish officials are due to visit the site on Wednesday and brief media on details of the deployment, which had originally been envisaged for last year.

The battery, whose permanent home is in Germany, has symbolic value for Poland, which has long complained that it hosts no NATO troops or major military installations 10 years after it joined the alliance.

Russia is wary about the deployment of U.S. troops and hardware near its borders, though its defense ministry in January denied suggestions it might boost its Baltic fleet in response to the Patriot deployment in Poland.

The Patriot is a defensive surface-to-air system used to intercept missiles. Poland says the battery poses no possible threat to Russia.

Its arrival coincides with fresh efforts by Moscow and Warsaw to improve ties after a plane crash on Russian soil on April 10 killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and scores of other senior officials.

Relations between Poland and its communist-era overlord have long been sorely strained by disputes over issues from missile defense and NATO enlargement to history and energy supplies.

The deployment of the Patriot battery is not linked to broader U.S. talks with Poland and other ex-communist states about future missile defense systems that Moscow opposes.

Reporting by Gareth Jones; editing by Steve Gutterman

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