Warsaw Fears Second-Tier Status

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Poland's fears that it is becoming a second-class U.S. ally whose interests come after those of Russia were reinforced by Washington's decision to reorient its missile-defense plans away from Central Europe.

While Polish government officials gave a cautious and generally upbeat assessment of the change in U.S. strategy Thursday, many nonetheless were concerned by what the shift said about the changing focus of the Obama administration.

"I don't like this policy. It's not that we need the shield, but it's about the way we're treated here," Lech Walesa, Poland's first post-Communist president, said in televised comments.

Poland, which broke away from the Soviet orbit in 1989 and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization 10 years later, had hoped the deployment of 10 interceptor missiles and the stationing of U.S. soldiers on its territory would improve its security, ensuring that if anyone attacked the U.S. would be compelled to react...

... Warsaw has proved a staunch U.S. ally. It sent thousands of troops to fight in Iraq, siding with the U.S. and Britain when Europe divided over the invasion. Poland also keenly supported Westward-leaning governments and democratic elections in the ex-Soviet states, particularly in neighboring Ukraine. These policies antagonized Moscow, however, and the Obama administration is now trying to "reset" the damaged U.S.-Russia relationship.

"The American decision [to shelve the missile program] was made in the well-understood American interest that now means good relations with Russia, for which President Obama is ready to sacrifice the interests of Central European countries," said Zbigniew Lewicki, professor of American studies at the Warsaw University.

The conservative government and president that came to power in Warsaw in 2005 embraced the Bush administration's missile project. They also had a fraught relationship with Poland's two historic foes, Russia and Germany. Thursday, by coincidence, was the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, launched just weeks after Nazi Germany began its assault. The two powers divided their neighbor between them.

But a center-right government that took power in Poland in 2007 proved more skeptical of the U.S. project. It tried to improve relations with Moscow and Berlin and worried that while Iran -- the ostensible aggressor that the defense shield was meant to contain -- was unlikely to target Poland, hosting the installations could trigger a response from Russia. The new government bargained to get U.S. Patriot-missile batteries and a bigger U.S. troop contingent as part of the deal, delaying signature of the agreement until August 2008...

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