Days after President Vladimir Putin warned Poland and Romania they could be the target of Russian rockets because they are hosting a U.S. missile shield that Moscow considers to be a threat to its security, the Kremlin ordered its military to carry out “snap exercises” aimed at preparing them in light of a NATO build up next to its borders.
Also on Sunday, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said that the U.S. missile shield base being built in northern Poland is no threat to Russian security, and that its purpose is to protect Europe from an attack from Middle East, according to the PAP news agency.
But Waszcykowski's statements contradict a report by Reuters back in February citing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: “Backed by an increase in U.S. military spending, NATO is planning its biggest build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War to deter Russia but will reject Polish demands for permanent bases.”
“President Putin should know perfectly well that the anti-missile shield in Poland has no bearing on Russia's security. This system is to defend Europe against a missile attack from the Middle East.”
Waszczykowski insisted. “The military presence of the Americans and multinational NATO troops is, however, a response to aggressive behavior and threats to us by the Russian authorities. This will be a presence of a defensive nature and not posing a threat to Russia.”
Putin issued his starkest warning yet over the missile shield, saying that Moscow had stated repeatedly that it would have to take retaliatory steps but that Washington and its allies had ignored the warnings.
Earlier this month, the U.S. military — which also said the shield is needed to protect from Iran, not threaten Russia — switched on the Romanian part of the shield. Work is going ahead on another part of the shield, in Poland.
"If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply did not know what it means to be in the crosshairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security," Putin added. "It will be the same case with Poland," he said.
Putin did not specify what actions Russia would take, but he insisted that it was not making the first step, only responding to moves by Washington. "We won't take any action until we see rockets in areas that neighbor us."
The Russian head of state said the argument that the project was needed to defend against Iran made no sense because an international deal had been reached to curb Tehran's nuclear program. The missiles that will form the shield can easily reach Russian cities, he said.