Poland to Station Patriot Missiles Near Russian Border

U.S. Patriot missiles will be stationed in northern Poland about 60 miles (100 km) from the border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad rather than near Warsaw, the Polish defense minister said on Wednesday.Polish Radio cited Bogdan Klich as saying the decision to set up a Patriot site in the outskirts of the town of Morag, which is much closer to the Russian border than Warsaw, does not bear any considerations of a strategic nature.

"In Morag we could offer the best conditions for American soldiers and the best technical base for the equipment," Klich said.Poland and the United States signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) last December laying out the conditions for the deployment of U.S. troops on Polish soil.According to the SOFA, U.S. 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 U.S. soldiers, and will comprise up to eight missile launchers.The first U.S. troop rotation is expected to arrive in Poland by the end of March.Russia has strongly opposed the previous U.S. 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 defense system went as far as a threat to deploy Iskander-M tactical ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave, but last September U.S. 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 U.S. 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 a theater air-defense system designed to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.As well as the U.S., 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 U.S. forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.


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