The United States President Barack Obama will be visiting Poland later this month and will confirm the stationing of F16 combat aircraft on Polish soil during meetings with Bronislaw Komorowski, his Polish counterpart. The London Telegraph reported that 16 US jets will move from their current home at the Aviano air force base in Italy to Lask in central Poland, and will be stationed on a rotational basis from 2013. The US-Polish talks will also cover the stationing SM-3 interceptor missiles in Poland as part of Washington's plans for a missile defence shield. The United States already has a Patriot missile battery in Poland.
The development will raise eyebrows in Moscow. The US-Russia reset is already shaken by serious differences over Libya. The deployment of US ABM in Romania have been finalised recently. The Victory Day parade in Moscow's Red Square on Monday was no doubt a show of strength with Russia displaying its most advanced air defence systems - S-400 Triumph air defense missiles and the Iskander-M anti-craft missiles and the Topol-M ballistic missiles.
The F-16 jets in Poland as such do not threaten Russia. The point is why Obama is doing this. Russia will be annoyed by the prospect of NATO military infrastructure in Poland. Moscow had threatened to direct missiles at Polish targets if George W- Bush administration proceeded with the deployment of ABM components in Poland. Obama apparently scrapped the Bush-era plan on ABM and Russia welcomed the decision, and viewed it evidence of Obama's intent to push the reset with Russia. Now comes the revelation that Obama had merely postponed matters.
Russia had warned last year when reports of F-16 deployment in Poland first appeared that it would "take into account the American-Polish plans and carry out [its] own armed forces development projects". Again, the issue is the placement of American military hardware on Polish soil and not the fighting capacity of the F-16. Warsaw has been hoping to "lock in" the US in its overall defence over and above the NATO cover. And Obama is now obliging. Poland has long wanted a permanent presence of U.S. military on its territory as a cover from Russia despite Moscow's overtures to cultivate Warsaw. His renewed effort to permanently place U.S. military infrastructure in Poland would be a stabilizing factor, arguably, for Poland but Russia is likely to resist. Moscow is yet to react.