WASHINGTON, August 15 (RIA Novosti) - The United States and Poland have signed an agreement to deploy U.S. interceptor missiles in the former Communist-bloc country.
The news comes amid a military crisis in Georgia that has provoked strong criticism of Moscow by the U.S. and other Western countries.
The preliminary deal to place elements of the U.S. global missile defense shield, signed by Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer and U.S. chief negotiator John Rood late on Thursday, is likely to further fuel tensions between Washington and Moscow.
Russia is strongly opposed to the missile shield plan, which it says will undermine its nuclear deterrent and threaten its national security.
Washington says plans to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland coupled with a radar system in the Czech Republic are intended to counter possible attacks from what it calls "rogue states," including Iran.
The agreement was reached after Washington agreed to reinforce Poland's air defenses. The deal is still to be approved by the two countries' governments and Poland's parliament.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in televised remarks that "the events in the Caucasus show clearly that such security guarantees are indispensable." The U.S.-Polish missile talks had been dragging for months before recent hostilities in Georgia.
Moscow has accused the West of bias in favor of Georgia and reliance on statements from Tbilisi during the South Ossetia armed conflict. Russia says it deployed additional troops to South Ossetia to reinforce its peacekeepers and protect civilians after Georgia attacked the capital of the breakaway republic on August 8.
White House and State Department officials denied however that the signing of the deal was linked to events in Georgia.
"We certainly welcome the development. We believe that missile defense is a substantial contribution to NATO's collective security," White House press secretary Dona Perino said on Thursday, adding that the deal was a result of protracted negotiations.
Officials say the interceptor base in Poland will be opened by 2012. The Czech Republic signed a deal to host a U.S. radar on July 8.
Senior Russian lawmakers said on Friday the agreement would damage security in Europe, and reiterated that Russia would now have to take steps to ensure its security.
Andrei Klimov, deputy head of the State Duma's international affairs committee, said the deal was designed to demonstrate Warsaw's "loyalty to the U.S. and receive material benefits. For the Americans, it is an opportunity to expand its military presence across the world, including closer to Russia," he said.
"For NATO," he went on, "This is an additional risk...many NATO countries are unhappy with this, including the Germans and the French."
While Klimov called the agreement "a step back" toward the Cold War, he said the missiles were not that important strategically and were more of a political irritant. He also played down a link to developments in South Ossetia: "There might be a psychological element in it, but talks with Poland had been dragging on long enough beforehand."
Another senior State Duma member, Gennady Gudkov, said the deal would further divide European countries into U.S. "vassals" and those pursuing more independent policies.
Russian officials earlier said Moscow could deploy its Iskander tactical missiles and strategic bombers in Belarus and Russia's westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad if Washington succeeded in its missile shield plans in Europe. Moscow also warned it could target its missiles on Poland.