U.S. to Deliver Missile Shield to Poland, Irritating Putin

(Bloomberg) -- Poland signed a $4.75 billion contract with the U.S. for the first phase of a Patriot air missile-defense system to soothe concerns over a more assertive Russia, which has been critical of NATO’s increasing presence in the region.

The agreement follows Monday’s coordinated expulsion of more than 100 Russian diplomats by 24 nations, including the U.S. and Poland, in response to a nerve-agent attack in the U.K. Under Poland’s largest-ever weapons purchase, Patriot producer Raytheon Co. will start deliveries of rockets and communication systems in 2022.

“It’s a historic moment,” President Andrzej Duda said Wednesday. “We’re fitting the Polish army with the most advanced defense system in the world.”

Warsaw is concerned about Russia’s expansive policy toward eastern Europe, whose countries shrugged off the Kremlin’s Soviet-era domination before most of them joined the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Poland, which shares a border with Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, hosts U.S. troops on its territory and sees the missile system as a step toward strengthening the military alliance’s eastern flank.

Russia sees U.S. and NATO efforts to deploy a missile-defense system in central Europe as undermining the region’s stability. President Vladimir Putin this year announced the development of new weapons, including missiles he said could evade U.S. defenses.

Russia’s Defense Ministry couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday. In December, Andrey Kelin, the head of the department for European cooperation, told Rossiya Segodnya in an interview that Warsaw’s efforts to gain a missile shield “have a negative impact on the atmosphere in Europe.”

‘Strategic Partnership’

Traditionally warm relations between the U.S. and Poland, the biggest formerly communist nation in the EU and NATO, have frayed this year after Warsaw passed a law criminalizing suggestions that the Polish nation was responsible for any crimes during the Holocaust. In December, the State Department in Washington said a fine imposed by a Polish regulator on a U.S.-owned news broadcaster for how it covered anti-government protests in Warsaw “appeared to undermine media freedom.” The penalty was eventually dropped.

“This deal cements the strategic partnership and common values between Poland and the U.S. and boosts the security of central Europe," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters in Warsaw.

On March 23, Poland signed two offset deals with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp. to boost the involvement of Polish companies in return for buying the surface-to-air missile systems. The 10-year service deal with Raytheon is worth 224.1 million zloty ($66 million) and an agreement with Lockheed Martin for servicing installations and the maintenance of F-16 planes is worth 724.8 million zloty, according to Poland’s Defense Ministry.

In the first phase, Poland is getting two Patriot batteries of 16 launchers of PAC-3 MSE rockets. The second phase assumes Poland will get six more. Polish officials will meet their U.S. counterparts to discuss further steps on April 16, according to the Defense Ministry. Payments are spread over five years, while initial operational capability of the system is expected by early 2024.

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