August 16, 2008
A catastrophe in the making
Richard Beeston: Analysis
Donald Tusk, Poland’s Prime Minister, could not have chosen his words better when he told his countrymen: “We have crossed the Rubicon.” He was speaking after the signing of an agreement with America to base ten US interceptor missiles on Polish soil, ostensibly to protect the West against rogue states such as Iran. To clinch the deal, the US also agreed to boost Poland’s defence with Patriot missiles and to conclude a mutual defence treaty “in case of trouble”.
Trouble came hours later in the form of a direct threat from General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the Russian deputy chief of staff, who warned the Poles that they should now regard themselves as potential nuclear targets. The Russians believe that the interceptors have nothing to do with Iran but are part of a Western defensive shield that could one day make the Kremlin’s huge stockpile of ballistic missiles obsolete.
Moscow has used apocalyptic language before, and no one is seriously suggesting that Warsaw or Crakow will become smoking ruins any time soon. But the Polish move, and the Russian threat, provide the clearest evidence yet that the six-day Georgian war has spread to Eastern Europe’s ancient fault-lines.