by Igor Serebryany
MOSCOW, May 26 (Xinhua) -- The deployment of U.S. Patriot missiles in Poland greatly annoyed the Kremlin but posed no military threat, leading Russian military politics expert Pavel Felgengauer said Wednesday.
Felgengauer told Xinhua Wednesday that Moscow insisted all the countries of the former Warsaw Treaty Organization remained the "zone of Russia's special interests".
"Russians do not like it that the American military infrastructure has been unfolding in the countries of former Soviet zone of influence. Moscow wants to have a right of veto there and Moscow wants the West to recognize this right, formally or not," Felgengauer said.
However, "the missiles themselves that have been deployed in the Polish town of Morag bear no real military threat to Russia," he said.
On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement criticizing the NATO decision to deploy the missiles close to the border of the Kaliningrad region, Russia's westernmost enclave squeezed between Poland and Lithuania, both of which are members of NATO and the European Union.
Poland was a former member of the Soviet military-political bloc. Lithuania was a republic inside the former Soviet Union until 1990.
"These Patriot missiles have been there for training Polish crews rather than for any actual military tasks. In the foreseeable future, they will remain as such," Felgengauer said.
"Still, Russia does not like it at all that these missile systems, even for training purposes only, have been planted just a few miles off the Russian border," he said.
Relations between Russia and Poland have been as cold as ice since the dissolution of the Warsaw bloc and started to improve only recently, when Moscow formally recognized the Soviet role in the execution of thousands of Polish officers in the village of Katyn near Smolensk at the outbreak of World War II.
It was a bitter irony that the crash of a plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski to a Katyn memorial helped to mend the relations further.
Now, said Felgengauer, the Poles had initiated the deployment of U.S. missiles.
"The Poles want the U.S. military personnel to be present on Polish soil in any capacity, even armed with toy guns. The reason is simple. The presence of the Americans in Poland automatically makes it way more difficult for Russia to launch any aggressive act through the common Russian-Polish border," he said.
On Wednesday, Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich welcomed a hundred-strong U.S. unit and a few high-ranking U.S. military officials in the town of Morag, where six training-mode Patriot missiles had been deployed. After 2012, they will be supplemented with the Standard SM-3 missiles.
The Polish minister said the arrival of the missiles had been "an important step to enhancing the security" of Poland, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Felgengauer said Poland became especially uneasy with its security situation after the brief war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, when "it became clear that the West had been reluctant to undertake any practical steps to protect the countries Russia fought against."
"When U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped the planned stationing of U.S. airborne interceptors in Poland, the Poles had insisted American technical staff be placed there," he said, adding that Poland particularly pointed out the fact that across the border were two Russian S-300PK anti-missile batteries.
On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said“such military activity does not help to strengthen our mutual security, to develop relations of trust and predictability in this region”and that Moscow“cannot understand the logic and targets of the cooperation between the United States and Poland in this sphere," the Itar-Tass news agency reported.
"The worries of Moscow are of sheer political nature," said Felgengauer. "Moscow feels hurt that the Americans did not ask Russia before they had made a decision. Kremlin sees the move as a step to contain Russia's alleged outward expansion. Moscow suspects that Americans might deploy there offensive weapons in future, step by step."
Still, the expert believed the latest development would hardly cause any serious changes in Russian-Polish or wider Russia-West relations.
"It is not quite clear at the moment which further steps may follow. NATO can deploy either new Standard SM-3 missile-interceptors or some ground-based counter-missiles systems by 2020. However, in any case, it is not a matter of the nearest future," he said.