Poland’s decision to deploy a battery of US Patriot missiles just 100 kilometres from the Russian border is neither political nor strategic, the Polish defence 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 defence 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 US signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) last December laying out the conditions for the deployment of US troops on Polish soil.
According to the SOFA, US 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 US soldiers, and will comprise up to eight missile launchers.
Russia has strongly opposed the previous US 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 defence system went as far as a threat to deploy Iskander-M tactical ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave, but last September US 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 US 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 an air-defence system designed to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.
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 US forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.