WARSAW (Reuters) - A planned battery of Patriot missiles that has irritated Russia will now arrive in Poland in late May, the state news agency PAP said Wednesday, nearly two months behind schedule.
The temporary deployment of the battery, along with a 100-man team to operate it, is part of a Polish-U.S. agreement signed late last year to upgrade the NATO member’s air defenses.
PAP quoted defense ministry spokesman Janusz Sejmej as saying the battery was now expected to reach Morag, a town in northern Poland near Russia’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, around May 24.
Neither the ministry nor the U.S. embassy was immediately available for comment and PAP gave no reason for the delay in the deployment, previously envisaged for early April.
Russia is wary about the deployment of U.S. troops and hardware near its borders, though its defense ministry denied in January suggestions that it might bolster its Baltic Fleet in response to the Patriot deployment in Poland.
The Patriot deal is primarily about training and is not linked to broader U.S. talks with Poland and other ex-communist states about future missile defense systems that Moscow opposes.
The battery, which would come to Poland from Germany several times a year, also has symbolic value for Warsaw, which has long complained that it hosts no U.S. troops or major military installations 10 years after it joined NATO.
The arrival of the Patriot battery coincides with fresh efforts by Moscow and Warsaw to improve frosty ties after a plane crash on Russian soil on April 10 killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and scores of other senior officials.
At Kaczynski’s funeral in the Polish city of Krakow last Sunday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev promised to cooperate fully with Poland in the crash investigation and also backed closer economic and other relations.
Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Lin Noueihed