A top Russian general said Friday that hosting a U.S. missile shield makes Poland a Kremlin military target, even as Moscow lowered its saber by agreeing to a cease-fire with the former Soviet republic of Georgia in their nations’ weeklong war.
According to Russia‘s Interfax news agency, Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn said Poland’s decision could even lead to a nuclear attack on the Kremlin’s former Warsaw Pact ally. Russia’s president also denounced the U.S.-Poland deal as an anti-Russia act, though he stopped short of threatening Warsaw.
“By hosting [U.S. anti-missile missiles], Poland is making itself a target. This is 100 percent,” said Gen. Nogovitsyn, the Russian military’s deputy chief of staff. “It becomes a target for attack. Such targets are destroyed as a first priority.”
He added that Russia’s military planning allows the use of nuclear weapons “against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them,” which he said would include helping with strategic-defense systems.
While the general was issuing his threats, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice persuaded a reluctant Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to sign a cease-fire with Russia, though the deal had several details that may become the basis for Georgia to lose parts of its territory.
She said that “with the signing of this accord, all Russian troops, and any paramilitary and irregular troops that entered with them must leave immediately.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also agreed to the cease-fire, according to a State Department official speaking to reporters on the plane taking Miss Rice back to the U.S. from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. “He said that Russia will implement the agreement faithfully,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.
While standing next to Miss Rice in Tbilisi after a five-hour meeting, an emotional Mr. Saakashvili denounced the Russians as “21st-century barbarians” and accused the West of all but inviting Kremlin aggression against his country.
“Who invited the trouble here? Who invited this arrogance here? Who invited these innocent deaths here?” Mr. Saakashvili asked, going on to answer his own question: “Not only those people who perpetrate them are responsible, but also those people who failed to stop it.”
Russian forces were camped a mere 25 miles from the Tbilisi news conference.
The cease-fire document sets out no penalties or deadlines. It also contains concessions to Russia, including letting the Kremlin put peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia - both regions of Georgia that have declared their independence from Tbilisi. Georgia tried earlier this month to reassert its sovereignty in those regions, and the overwhelming Russian invasion followed.
Russian troops allowed some humanitarian supplies into the strategic city of Gori, in the center of Georgia and not in either disputed territory, but otherwise continued their blockade. Russian withdrawal from Gori would be a major sign that Moscow is not trying to annex Georgia or topple its pro-American government. By holding Gori, Russia holds the small country’s only major east-west highway and effectively slices it in half.
Mr. Saakashvili said Georgia would not accept its dismemberment.
“We will rebuild. We want them out. I want the world to know, never, ever will Georgia reconcile with occupation of even one square kilometer of its sovereign territory. Never, ever,” he said.
In his Saturday radio address, which the White House released Friday, President Bush called Russia’s actions “completely unacceptable.”
“The world has watched with alarm as Russia invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatened a democratic government elected by its people,” he said.
When Mr. Bush spoke earlier Friday at the White House, he tried to balance standing up for Georgia and keeping already tense relations with Russia from completely collapsing into a new Cold War. He vowed not to “cast aside” Georgia, and said Miss Rice was in Tbilisi “expressing America’s wholehearted support for Georgia’s democracy,” but there was no indication that the U.S. would do more than ship humanitarian aid.
“Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century,” he said. “Only Russia can decide whether it will now put itself back on the path of responsible nations or continue to pursue a policy that promises only confrontation and isolation.”
“The Cold War is over,” Mr. Bush said, repeating a statement he has often made in the last few years as tensions with Russia increased under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, first as president, and now as prime minister.
“The days of satellite states and spheres of influence are behind us. A contentious relationship with Russia is not in our interests and a contentious relationship with the U.S. is not in Russia’s interests,” he said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who met Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sochi, Russia, said the Kremlin also didn’t want a new Cold War.
“Of course we don’t want a long- or short-term worsening of relationships,” Mr. Medvedev said. “On the contrary, we have always felt it is necessary to develop our relationships in full, with the European Union, with the United States.”
Nevertheless, he said Moscow would do the same thing again if its peacekeepers were attacked and said the two rebel regions could never live again under Georgian rule.
The Russian leader also criticized the missile-defense agreement, which will place 10 missile interceptors and a permanent U.S. military base on Polish soil, and also cements a mutual protection treaty between the two nations. The Bush administration says the interceptors, and coordinated radar system, in the Czech Republic, are to protect Europe from a nuclear Iran or rogue countries in the Middle East.
But Mr. Medvedev said the announcement just a week after war broke out between Georgia and Russia was “chosen well and therefore any fairy tales about deterring other states, fairy tales that with the help of this system we will deter some sort of rogue states, no longer work.”
“This decision clearly demonstrates everything we have said recently,” he said. “The deployment of new anti-missile forces in Europe has as its aim the Russian Federation.”
Mrs. Merkel, standing next to Mr. Medvedev, backed up the U.S. point of view, saying that “the agreement is not aimed at Russia at all.”
Miss Rice also denied that the timing was significant, although several of Russia’s neighbors have expressed nervousness in recent days over the Kremlin’s overwhelming use of force against Georgia.
“I’ve made very clear that we were going to sign that agreement as soon as Poland and the United States had come to terms. And we’ve now come to terms,” she said.
But Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk clearly indicated Thursday that he was entering into the deal to cement U.S. security guarantees in the wake of events in Georgia.
Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski was quoted Friday by the Polish news agency PAP saying that his country is open to Russian inspections on the missile shield and wants to give Moscow “tangible proof” that it is not directed at Russia.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, when asked about Russian threats against Poland as a result of the missile-defense agreement, suggested that earlier U.S. offers for broad cooperation with Moscow on missile defense may be re-evaluated, considering the latest developments.
“I think the Russian behavior over the last several days is generally concerning not only to the United States but to all of our European allies,” he said.
Over five days of fighting, at least 2,000 people were killed and 100,000 displaced. The Russians claim that Georgia committed atrocities in South Ossetia, and Mr. Medvedev referred in his remarks to “this tragic event.” Western observers and government officials are dubious of Russian claims.
The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had brokered the cease-fire, said “The conditions are now in place for the rapid adoption of a resolution by the (U.N.) Security Council and the definition of an international mechanism” to police the cease-fire.
But because Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and can veto any resolution, diplomats said the resolution contains some elements to please Moscow but which will be opposed by Tbilisi.
A major sticking point is Georgia’s territorial integrity, which was reaffirmed in the initial French draft but is no longer in the text, which now only mentions Georgia’s independence and sovereignty. Another is that Russia will be allowed to carry out additional “security measures,” with the U.S. and Europe pushing for language clarifying what that would entail.
This article was based in part on wire-service reports.