Poland says basing Patriot missiles nearer Russia not political
WARSAW, January 21 (RIA Novosti) - Poland's decision to deploy a battery of U.S. Patriot missiles just 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Russian border is neither political nor strategic, the Polish defense minister said Wednesday.
Bogdan Klich stressed that the base's proximity to Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad had nothing to do with the decision to station the missiles near the town of Morag rather than outside Warsaw.
"It did not have any significance — neither political nor strategic. The only reason was the good infrastructure," Klich told journalists on Wednesday evening.
Polish media reported earlier Wednesday that Defense Ministry experts came to the conclusion that Morag was the best place for the deployment of the Patriot missiles.
"In Morag we could offer the best conditions for American soldiers and the best technical base for the equipment," Klich said on Polish Radio.
Poland and the United States signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) last December laying out the conditions for the deployment of U.S. troops on Polish soil.
According to the SOFA, U.S. troops will service Patriot missiles that are to be integrated into Poland's national security system.
The Patriot unit will be manned by some 100 U.S. soldiers, and will comprise up to eight missile launchers.
The first U.S. troop rotation is expected to arrive in Poland by the end of March.
Russia has strongly opposed the previous U.S. administration's plans to place 10 long-range ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland and a fixed-site radar station in the Czech Republic. When agreeing to host the missile site, Warsaw demanded the Patriots' deployment to improve its defensive capabilities.
Moscow's opposition to the missile defense system went as far as a threat to deploy Iskander-M tactical ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave, but last September U.S. President Barack Obama shelved the proposed Central European missile shield and Russia said it would not place its missiles near the Polish border.
However, Warsaw has insisted that the Patriot systems be placed in Poland under a bilateral security pact regardless of whether plans for a U.S. interceptor missile base in the country go ahead or not.
Russia has not yet commented on the Polish decision to move the location of the Patriot site closer to its borders.
Patriot (MIM-104) is a theater air-defense system designed to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.
As well as the U.S., the Patriot is in service in Egypt, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. Patriot missile systems were successfully deployed by U.S. forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
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