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Politics

Russia slams U.S./Poland missile shield deal

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States has shown that Russia is the true target of its planned missile defense shield by signing a deal with Poland during an international crisis over Georgia, Russia’s NATO envoy told Reuters on Friday.

U.S. chief negotiator John Rood (L) and Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer sign a missile shield preliminary deal at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw August 14, 2008. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Poland agreed on Thursday to host elements of a U.S. global anti-missile system after Washington agreed to boost Poland’s own air defenses.

“The fact that this was signed in a period of very difficult crisis in the relations between Russia and the United States over the situation in Georgia shows that, of course, the missile defense system will be deployed not against Iran but against the strategic potential of Russia,” Dmitry Rogozin said in a telephone interview.

Washington says the missile system is aimed at protecting the United States and its allies from long range missiles that could in the future be fired by Iran or groups such as al-Qaeda.

The Kremlin says that is untrue and has long opposed the shield, though Russian generals boast it could never stop the fire power of Russia’s giant missile arsenal.

Moscow and Washington have been trading barbs over Georgia, an ally of the United States aspiring to join NATO, after Russian troops routed Georgian forces which had tried to take control of a Georgian separatist region backed by Moscow.

Russian units then went into several towns in Georgia proper, provoking the ire of Washington, with top U.S. officials invoking memories of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

CONFLICT “PRETEXT FOR AGREEMENT”

Polish analysts argued that images of the conflict helped push Warsaw to agree to the shield deal after months of talks.

They also said it risked putting more pressure on ties with Russia just months after Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk vowed to improve his country’s historically strained relations with its big neighbor and former overlord.

“It can now be expected that this will be the beginning of the end of Polish-Russian talks. This agreement can be seen as a purely anti-Russian agreement,” said Kazimierz Kik, a sociology professor at Swietokrzyska Academy.

“It’s making Poland part of the U.S. defense system and, in my view, pushes Poland along a well-worn road of mistakes -- looking for allies afar and enemies nearby,” he added.

Russia says the conflict -- Moscow’s first major foreign military operation since the collapse of the Soviet Union -- has been misrepresented by the West and that Georgia has been treated as a victim rather than the aggressor.

Rogozin criticized the United States for failing to support Russia in the crisis and said relations could be harmed.

“I consider that the United States is not acting in a cautious manner in this situation,” Rogozin said, when asked about U.S.-Russian relations and the situation in Georgia.

“Instead of getting full moral and political support in the struggle against real aggression and ethnic cleansing, we have heard a mass of unpleasant words and threats. That will, of course, not strengthen our relations.”

Russia’s top brass said on Friday that the United States was aggravating relations by signing the agreement with Poland.

“It can only be regretted that in this most difficult situation, the American side is aggravating relations with Russia,” Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of Russia’s General Staff, told a news conference.

Additional reporting by Karolina Slowikowska in Warsaw; Editing by Mike Collett-White

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