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20:31 GMT +3 hours19 December 2014
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Analysis & Opinion

U.S., Poland playing Patriot games

Analysis & Opinion
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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin)

The Obama administration is bargaining over "payment" for its potential agreement not to deploy ballistic missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Former President George W. Bush planned to deploy 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a missile tracking radar in the Czech Republic close to the Russian border, allegedly for protection against Iranian attacks. Barack Obama has not yet curtailed that plan, but has ordered that its expediency and effectiveness be scrutinized, above all in terms of expenditure.

This may mean anything, from readiness to abandon the plan to reaffirming it, or to taking a pause to determine what additional benefits the White House could get from renouncing it. If it does, would such benefits be worth the effort?

The three-day visit by Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski to Washington shows that the White House is considering the third scenario.

Sikorski said after his talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on February 25 that he did not know whether the missile shield plan would go ahead.

"The U.S. administration is still discussing the plans for a missile base in Poland. They have not decided yet," he said, adding that the U.S. Patriot air defense systems would be placed in Poland regardless of the prospects of the deployment of a U.S. missile defense base in the country.

In August last year, the U.S. and Poland agreed that a Patriot battalion would be deployed at Redzikowo, near the northern Polish town of Slupsk, where the U.S. also planned to deploy the 10 interceptor missiles.

Warsaw insisted that the Patriots should be moved to Poland from Germany, claiming that the deployment of antimissiles would leave it unprotected.

So far, only Poland reports on the allegedly final U.S. decision to move Patriot missiles to Poland. According to the Polish Defense Ministry, they would stay in Poland on a temporary basis until 2013 and permanently after that.

Patriot (MIM-104) is a theater air defense system designed to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.

Clinton and the Pentagon have not confirmed or refuted the Polish defense department's information.

The deployment of interceptor missiles and the ABM system in general would benefit Poland financially, as the U.S. has pledged to pay nearly $20 billion to it for the missiles' deployment and modernization of the Polish army. This is quite a bit during these times of ongoing economic crisis.

Washington also has other reasons for playing the Patriot games. It said it might abandon its ABM plans for Poland and the Czech Republic if Russia agreed to cut its strategic nuclear weapons arsenal by 80%, bringing the permissible level to 1,000 on either side.

Russia has no reasons to jump for joy at the U.S. proposal, which has not even been clearly formulated. In fact, why should Moscow cut its ballistic missiles when Washington is working to strengthen its ballistic missile defense and take up nuclear cruise missiles with a range of up to 3,000 km (1,865 miles)?

Cutting strategic offensive weapons at the U.S. request would amount to giving it a big advantage in intermediate-range missiles and ballistic missile defense.

When deployed in the regions of the two nuclear powers' border confrontation (such as Poland), weapons, including ballistic missile defense systems, become geopolitical instruments. Besides, the U.S. needs Patriots in Poland as an ace in the Iran game.

Pentagon chief Robert Gates told Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita in mid-February that the future of the missile shield and Patriots in Poland depended directly on Moscow's stance on Iran. If Russia accepted the U.S. view and forced Tehran to abandon its nuclear program, there would be no need for the missile shield and Patriots in Poland.

However, Russia is unlikely to do so. It has completed the construction of the first power unit at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran and is ready to sign more civil nuclear contracts with it. Pressurizing Iran at this point would mean losing them.

And lastly, deploying Patriots without the deployment of the ballistic interceptor missile would be quite senseless, because Poland is now reliably protected by NATO's anti-missile systems.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.