Europe debates plans for US missile bases in Poland


US plans to base parts of its anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic is being hotly debated around Europe at the moment. Not least in the two countries involved. In Warsaw an event organized by the Center for European Strategy highlighted the differences between Germany and Poland over the issue. Germany has repeatedly expressed reservations concerning Poland's close relationship with the US, which some EU countries see as taking precedence over relations with Europe.

The US offer to host elements of its anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic has caused a lot of commotion and brought back on the table the question of redefining the EU-Russia relations. Russia has even responded with anger claiming that the US is trying to build up its military presence in this part of Europe in an act reminiscent of the Cold War. Pawel Zalewski is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Poland's lower house of parliament - the Sejm. He claims that Russia's concerns cannot be ignored.

"The anti-missile system is an issue at the moment much more bilateral between the United States and Poland and the United States and the Czech Republic. However, of course I hope that in quite short time it will become the system of the whole NATO. Of course there are different problems, e.g. the Russia attitude to just neglect the interests of some countries like Poland, to try and deepen cooperation with others. Our perspective is as follows: first of all, we want to have Russia as a partner, it is absolutely crucial for us - Russia is a neighboring country, huge country, influencing very much its neighbors, that is clear. Secondly, we also treat very seriously treaties. And I hope all the misunderstanding coming from Russia will terminate soon."

His views are echoed by Germany which is currently presiding over the European Union and which realized that it may influence the relations between Russia and the EU. According to recent opinion polls in Germany over half of its population is against placing those anti-missile systems in Poland. Gunter Gloser is the minister of state for the European Affairs in the German Foreign Ministry. He thinks that the issue should be further discussed.

"We have underlined the importance of the relationship between the European Union and Russia and there are some targets in different countries. But we cannot start negotiations if we don't get a green light, if we don't find a solution to export of meal to Russia. And we need this green light because then we could do what is necessary in this new treatment between EU and Russia. Now we need information and we need a debate, for example in the assembly of NATO. I believe it's necessary. It's not a single decision made by Poland or by the Czech Republic. We have to initiate a debate about this step of the United States."

Minister Jutta Frasch, deputy head of mission at the German Embassy in Warsaw also claims that the Russia's recent behavior cannot be left without response.

"Russia is a strategic partner in itself and we want to develop this partnership. We want to try to put topics which are relevant now into a treaty so that we can build confidence and come to a partnership which is really a partnership between Russia and the EU. We think that Russia is not going to ignore 500 million of EU citizens - it is their most important market, it is right next door so it's not far away like China and therefore it's also in the mutual interest of Russia to have good relations with the EU."

Meanwhile the American side is saying that Moscow has nothing to fear and that it has to recognize that dangers faced from missiles are different these days than they were decades ago. During a briefing in Washington the head of the American Missile Defense Agency said that the shield is necessary to guard that country against surprise threats in the future. The Polish response to the American offer, and most probably another Russian reaction to it should come at the beginning of March.