The first battery of the U.S. surface-to-air Patriot missile system was unveiled by Polish and U.S. officials on Wednesday, a move which has irritated Russia. The Patriot system, which will be installed in Poland, is a long-range, all-altitude, all-weather air defense system, which is made to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and advanced aircraft.
A U.S. unit consisting of more than 100 American soldiers was formally welcomed by Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich. The soldiers will train their counterparts to use the missile system at the base in Morag, which is about 40 miles from the Russian border.
The Patriot missile system was transported to Poland last week, by railway from a U.S. base located in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Warsaw and Washington agreed on the Patriot deal in 2008 while negotiating the installation of a controversial antimissile shield in Poland and its neighbor, Czech Republic. Although the Patriot system is being installed, the shield project was not passed.
In September 2009, President Barack Obama canceled the shield project, as Moscow claimed it was a threat at their doorstep. The White House said using the shield project was to ward off the potential threat of long-distance missiles from Iran.
The United States says the reasons for installing the shield project are also for security purposes, which Polish leaders are in agreement with.
“We regard the deployment of the Patriot system in Poland as an important step increasing our national security and in developing strategic cooperation with the United States,” said Klich, according to AFP news agency.
The Russians feel differently, however. An unnamed Russian foreign ministry official claimed that the move to place the Patriot missile system in Poland would not bring security to the region, according to Russian ITAR-TASS news agency.
“Such military activity does not help to strengthen our mutual security, to develop relations of trust and predictability in this region,” he said, adding that Russian officials could not understand the reasons of cooperation on the project between the United States and Poland.
Polish officials insisted that deployment was not a threat, but rather part of their ongoing military development since the country joined NATO in 1999, a decade after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
Meanwhile, the attention of the Polish leadership has been diverted to some degree, as the country continues to fight flooding, which began last week and has killed at least 15 people and forced thousands of others to evacuate their homes.
The country’s main river, the Vistula, burst its banks last weekend, flooding thousands of miles of land in the south of the country. The main flow of water is coursing on the north now.