- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Polish and U.S. officials symbolically broke ground Friday for a U.S.-led missile defense site in the country’s north, a system that has drawn condemnation from Russia.

President Andrzej Duda declared it was an “important day” for Poland whose security was being enhanced, but also for showing NATO’s unity.

Responding to Russia’s nervousness over a NATO base so close to its border, Duda said the interceptor site in Redzikowo was not aimed against anyone but was solely to defend the “skies over Europe from any missile attack.” It is scheduled to become operational in 2018.

Earlier Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the development of NATO’s missile defense program as a threat to global security and vowed that Russia will take the necessary steps to maintain a strategic parity.

On Thursday, another missile defense interceptor site became operational in Romania, which, just like Poland, was under Moscow’s domination during the Soviet era.

The system also includes a radar in Turkey, as well as interceptor ships and a command center in Ramstein, Germany.

In Redzikowo on Friday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert O. Work and Poland’s Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, shovels in hand, symbolically turned the soil to begin work on the interceptor site.

Poland has been seeking NATO and U.S. troops’ presence on its territory and in the region because of increased activity by Russia.

NATO leaders are expected to pledge a more permanent defense presence in the region at a July 8-9 summit in Warsaw.

___

This story has been corrected to show that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was not at the ceremony.

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