WARSAW, Poland — The United States and Poland signed a deal Wednesday to place a U.S. missile defense base just 115 miles from Russia -- a move followed swiftly by a new warning from Moscow of a possible military response.
Negotiators sealed the deal last week against a backdrop of Russian military action in Georgia, a former Soviet republic turned U.S. ally, that has worried former Soviet satellites across eastern Europe. It prompted Moscow's sharpest rhetoric yet over the system, which it contends is aimed at Russia despite Washington's insistence the site is purely defensive.
After Wednesday's signing, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed any suggestion the 10 missile defense interceptors -- which Washington says are intended to defend Europe and the U.S. from the possible threat of long-distance missiles from Iran -- represent a threat to Russia.
Such comments "border on the bizarre, frankly," Rice told reporters in Warsaw. "The Russians are losing their credibility," she said, adding that Moscow would pay a price for its actions in Georgia, though she did not specify how.
Hours after the signing, Russia's Foreign Ministry warned that Moscow's response would go beyond diplomacy. The system to be based in Poland lacks "any target other than Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles," it said in a statement, contending the U.S. system "will be broadened and modernized."
"In this case Russia will be forced to react, and not only through diplomatic" channels, it said without elaborating.
In one of my first blog posts, written as the invasion of Iraq was beginning, I mourned what I believed was the end of a century of painfully achieved international law and a return to gunboat diplomacy. So far, things are turning out just as I feared they would.