U.S. "Falcons" to settle in Poland
In what may become a new test of strength for Russian-American relations, the United States is considering moving its Falcon jet fighters from Italy to Poland. The official announcement will be made when President Barack Obama’s comes to Poland for an official visit as part of his European tour, Polish media report, quoting Defense Ministry sources.
Although there has been no official confirmation of these reports, the signs are that a deal has already been sealed for the transfer of the F-16 Falcon jets from NATO’s Aviano base in Italy to Lask airfield in central Poland, as requested by Washington. The request was filed late last year with the necessary documents slated for signing during President Obama’s visit to Warsaw.
Naturally, Moscow’s reaction has been sharply negative, NATO’s expansion eastward being a key stumbling bloc in Russia-NATO ties since the end of the “Cold War”. The news may seriously affect the emerging rapprochement between the Kremlin and the alliance following President Obama’s earlier decision to drop plans by his predecessor George W. Bush to bring elements of U.S. missile defense to Poland.
Vladimir Yevseyev, head of the Center for Political Research in Moscow, fears the Falcon deal may hamper the understanding achieved in recent months:
"This decision coupled with the planned signing of documents on the deployment of missile defense components in Romania creates a very unfavorable atmosphere for talks on a common missile defense system, particularly ahead of a planned meeting of the Russia-NATO Council at a defense minister level, scheduled for June 9."
Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy head of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies, says the presence of F-16s in Poland is not a major threat in itself, but he agrees that this is an alarming sign:
"It obviously has to do with the possible future deployment of interceptor rockets in Poland. Not the ones George W. Bush intended to deploy, but new interceptor rockets. The Pentagon is modernizing the SM-3 rockets, both sea-based and ground-based versions, capable of hitting strategic missiles. They are going to be deployed in Poland. As for the F-16s, this is an attempt to put pressure on Russia during talks on possible cooperation in missile defense in an apparent “u”-turn from the “reset” course proclaimed by the Obama Administration."
In the absence of any threat to Poland from anywhere, Washington’s arguments that the deployment of F-16 jets and interceptor rockets is in the interests of the country’s own security are not convincing. Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama will probably discuss the issue when they meet in Deauville, France, on the sidelines of the G8 summit at the end of May.